Whitmer, Tlaib represent Democratic divide on voting 'uncommitted' instead of Biden

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Top Michigan Democrats presented dueling demands to their base as voters head to the polls in the state's presidential primary Tuesday amid calls by cease-fire activists to vote “uncommitted” in a campaign that has divided the party and fractured President Joe Biden’s coalition as he seeks reelection.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — who serves as Biden’s campaign co-chair — re-iterated her position that the “uncommitted” vote could provide a boost for former President Donald Trump come November.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks with members of the senate before delivering her budget presentation before a joint session of the state House and Senate appropriations committees at the Heritage Hall in Lansing on Wednesday, February 7, 2024. Whitmer discussed her funding priorities for the upcoming fiscal year and how she plans to pay for her proposals which are likely to include expanding state-funded preschool to all four year-olds, free community college, a vehicle tax rebate and a caregiver tax credit.

“At the end of the day, I am advocating that people cast an affirmative vote for Joe Biden because anything other than that makes it more likely we see a second Trump term and that’s bad for all the communities,” she said in an interview on NBC News Monday. She noted the pain felt among Arab American, Muslim and Jewish communities in Michigan in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel followed by deadly Israeli counterattacks that have killed more than 29,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib talks to supporters before a press conference where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Reproductive Health Act with lawmakers and activists who worked to get the legislation passed at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Mich. on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023.
U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib talks to supporters before a press conference where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Reproductive Health Act with lawmakers and activists who worked to get the legislation passed at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Mich. on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023.

Whitmer said she expects to see a "sizable number of votes for uncommitted." Those choosing the "uncommitted" option include prominent Michigan Democrats with more than 30 elected officials endorsing the Listen to Michigan campaign.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, shared in a video posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she pulled a Democratic ballot Tuesday and cast her vote for “uncommitted” instead of Biden. Her sister Layla Elabed is leading the “Listen to Michigan” campaign calling on voters to do the same, registering a protest vote in hopes of pressuring Biden to demand a permanent cease-fire in the war in Gaza.

“When seventy-four percent of Democrats in Michigan support a cease-fire yet President Biden is not hearing us, this is the way we can use our democracy to say, ‘listen, listen to Michigan,’” Tlaib said in the video, citing the results of a recent EPIC-MRA poll. Other Democrats backing the “uncommitted” push have pointed to support for a cease-fire within their party to cast the effort as a way to make Biden a more appealing candidate to his base.

As voters cast their ballots in Michigan's primary Tuesday, voters received outreach regarding the "uncommitted" campaign with texts calling on them to support it and others from the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC echoing Whitmer's position that an "uncommitted" vote "only helps Donald Trump."

Whitmer has repeatedly emphasized that heading into November, the stakes of a likely Biden-Trump rematch are high, including for the communities opposing Biden’s support for Israel, noting the former president’s support for a Muslim ban.

Michigan presidential primary: Uncommitted voting campaign targets President Biden over support for Israel in war in Gaza

“I think Michigan’s the kind of state you can never take for granted and nor should you. It’s the most diverse swing state in the country,” she said during the NBC News interview when asked whether Biden’s campaign should fear his standing in Michigan.

The “Listen to Michigan” campaign aims to achieve 10,000 “uncommitted” votes in the Democratic presidential primary, noting the number represents the rough margin by which Trump won the state in 2016. Whitmer said in the NBC News interview it's possible the campaign meets that threshold.

Ten thousand votes would amount to roughly half of the “uncommitted” votes cast in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary when about 1% of voters chose that option. By contrast, in 2008 when Barack Obama’s name did not appear on the ballot, 40% of voters in that year’s Democratic primary voted “uncommitted,” heeding calls from Obama supporters.

Contact Clara Hendrickson at chendrickson@freepress.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on X, previously called Twitter, @clarajanehen.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Whitmer, Tlaib divided on 'uncommitted' vote in Michigan primary