Michigan sends stark messages to Biden, Trump: ANALYSIS

Voters continue to say they're less than thrilled about a 2024 rematch.

February 28, 2024, 7:52 AM

Primaries in Michigan on Tuesday changed nothing about the near-inevitability of a 2024 rematch.

But voters continue to say and act like they're less than thrilled with the prospect. The first major primary voting in a battleground state highlighted the skepticism and even intra-party anger aimed at both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump face, with ramifications that will extend throughout the election year, and could even impact U.S. support for Israel and other allies.

PHOTO: Protestors rally against President Joe Biden's unwavering support for Israel and call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb. 20, 2024.
Protestors rally against President Joe Biden's unwavering support for Israel and call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb. 20, 2024.
Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

Michigan revealed an especially painful truth for Biden. Facing only token opposition, more than 100,000 Michiganders chose to vote in the Democratic primary for convention delegates who are formally "uncommitted" – some 10 times the numbers of voters Trump won the state by in 2016, and approaching Biden's own margin of victory four years later.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Feb. 27, 2024.
President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Feb. 27, 2024.
Bonnie Cash/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

That was in part the product of an organized effort to support a permanent cease-fire in Gaza and halt American aid to Israel. The group's leaders -- which include a sitting Democratic member of Congress from Michigan who is Palestinian-American -- have made clear that Biden's handling of the war has a large swath of voters ready to either sit out November or cast their votes elsewhere.

"President Biden is not hearing us," Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., said after casting her vote Tuesday. "Listen. Listen to Michigan. Listen to the families right now that have been directly impacted. But also listen to the majority of Americans who are saying: enough."

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump listens to applause during the Black Conservative Federation Gala on Feb. 23, 2024 in Columbia, S.C.
Former President Donald Trump listens to applause during the Black Conservative Federation Gala on Feb. 23, 2024 in Columbia, S.C.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

As for Trump, despite the near-certainty that he will clinch the GOP nomination in a manner of weeks, roughly a third of Republican voters in Michigan chose someone else in the primary, with votes still being counted Wednesday morning.

Most of those votes were for Nikki Haley, whose campaign equated the vote totals compiled in opposition to the former and current presidents as signals that Americans are eager to move on from both.

"What was once a beacon for the conservative cause, the Michigan Republican Party is now fractured and divided," Haley's campaign said in a statement. "Let this serve as another warning sign that what has happened in Michigan will continue to play out across the country."

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event at Wings Over the Rockies Exploration of Flight museum on Feb. 27, 2024 in Centennial, Colo.
Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event at Wings Over the Rockies Exploration of Flight museum on Feb. 27, 2024 in Centennial, Colo.
Chet Strange/Getty Images

Both the Trump and Biden campaigns read the numbers somewhat differently. Both are romping through the primaries and are unlikely to lose a single state, and campaigns rightly pointed out that "uncommitted" has a quirky history of being a factor in Michigan.

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Biden's statement on Michigan made no direct reference to the calls for a new course of action in the Middle East. He released a statement thanking "every Michigander who made their voice heard today."

A senior Biden adviser told ABC News' Mary Bruce that the president "shares the goal" of many of the "uncommitted" voters, to halt violence in the Middle East. The adviser also cast doubt on whether nearly as many core Democratic voters would actually support Trump in the fall.

"Nearly all of the folks voting uncommitted do not support the extremism, the xenophobia, and incompetence of Donald Trump," the adviser said. "They want a president who listens and delivers. That's Joe Biden."

Michigan holds value well beyond the primary season, both substantively and symbolically. Trump's shocking 11,000-vote win there smashed through the "blue wall" to deliver him the presidency in 2016; Biden turned that around four years later, delivering a more than 150,000-vote win that helped him become president.

Those margins put the 100,000-plus Democrats opposing Biden and the more than 300,000 Republicans voting for someone other than Trump in perspective. Many in both groups of voters will re-align with their parties in November, but third-party options and volatile events leave them potentially up for grabs.

The state has long been important as a battleground with a heavy organized labor presence, a big, diverse urban center, up-for-grabs suburbs and no shortage of "Reagan Democrats" willing to support the GOP. Add to that the political tinder box of the Hamas attack and the Israeli response, and the state has become one of the most important barometers of voter sentiment this year.

Biden allies sought to downplay the impact of Michigan primary voting, pointing out that even then-President Barack Obama, while breezing through 2012's Democratic primaries, saw more than 20,000 Democratic voters park their ballots with "uncommitted."

Still, some prominent Democrats had been sounding the alarm in recent weeks.

"Any vote that's not cast for Joe Biden supports a second Trump term," Gov. Gretchen Witmer, D-Mich., said over the weekend.

While the Israel-Hamas war was the focal point of ant-Biden sentiments, concerns over Biden's age and mental acuity have also sparked interest in voting "uncommitted." Several upcoming Super Tuesday states allow similar votes to be registered in their primaries, including Colorado, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Minnesota and Washington.

It now appears likely that some number of delegates will arrive at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as essentially free agents, just as some even larger quantity will be at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee having been "won" by candidates other than Trump.

Biden and Trump will be the nominees, barring health setbacks or other unforeseen events. But both will have to work to get their own voters on board, even as they seek out the small slice of battleground-state voters who are open to changing their minds.

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