Listen to Michigan watch party

People hug at the Listen to Michigan election watch party in Dearborn, Michigan on February 27, 2024.

(Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Jayapal Says Biden Must Heed Warnings of 'Uncommitted' Voters in Michigan

Progressive Caucus chair said the "lack of attention and empathy" on Gaza is "breaking apart the fragile coalition we built to elect Joe Biden in 2020."

The chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said late Tuesday that stronger-than-expected support for the grassroots uncommitted campaign in Michigan's Democratic presidential primary must be taken seriously by President Joe Biden if he hopes to defeat presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump in November—and prevent further atrocities in Gaza.

"The war on Gaza is a deep moral issue, and the lack of attention and empathy for this perspective from the administration is breaking apart the fragile coalition we built to elect Joe Biden in 2020," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) toldCNN's Manu Raju after it was clear that a significant percentage of primary voters marked "uncommitted" on their ballots.

Jayapal, a co-sponsor of a Gaza cease-fire resolution in the U.S. House, said that Biden still has a "little bit of time to change this dynamic" but argued a "dramatic policy and rhetorical shift" is needed from the president, whose administration has unconditionally supported Israel's latest assault on Gaza since it began in the wake of a Hamas-led attack on October 7.

"The results in Michigan are clear: Voters are not happy with the U.S's handling of the war in Gaza," Jayapal wrote on social media. "This is a profound moral issue—and it's time to listen."

As of this writing, more than 101,000 votes have been tallied for the "uncommitted" line, exceeding organizers' stated goal and far surpassing the 11,000-vote margin by which Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

In 2020, Biden beat Trump in Michigan by 150,000 votes.

Biden's reelection team was reportedly surprised by the strength of the uncommitted campaign in Michigan, even though local leaders and organizers warned the president that his unwavering support for Israel's war on Gaza has profoundly angered a large swath of Democratic voters in the state, many of whom have lost family members in the assault.

The president visited Michigan in early February but did not return to the state in the days leading up to Tuesday's contest. The New York Timesreported Tuesday that some of the president's surrogates "were asked to travel to Michigan and declined because they did not want to engage with Gaza protesters."

Politicoreported Wednesday that Biden aides "continue to believe that today's 'uncommitted' voters will be November's Biden voters once they have a stark choice in front of them."

"We really need actual change in policy, and I think we sent that message strongly last night."

Former U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), an outspoken supporter of the Listen to Michigan campaign, said in an appearance on Democracy Now! Wednesday morning that "uncommitted" voters don't just want better messaging from Biden, who has mildly criticized Israel's blatant lack of regard for civilian life in Gaza.

"The message from us to the president yesterday was, 'You must change course. You must change course for the sake of your political reelection and because it's the right and necessary thing to do, from every point of view,'" said Levin. "You've got to move towards an immediate and permanent cease-fire and an end to this carnage. Free all the hostages, free political prisoners among the Palestinians."

"We really need actual change in policy," Levin added, "and I think we sent that message strongly last night."

Ahead of Tuesday's primary contest, which Biden won with just over 81% of the vote, Biden ally and cease-fire supporter Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) visited Michigan and came away warning that the president "cannot win Michigan with status quo policy" and implored the president to substantially shift his approach to Israel's war on Gaza in "a matter of weeks, not months."

Sam Rosenthal, political director of the progressive advocacy group RootsAction, echoed that message in an op-ed for Common Dreams on Wednesday, writing that the strength of the "uncommitted" vote in Michigan should be a "wake-up call" for the president and those working for his reelection.

"If even a significant percentage of the primary electorate that voted uncommitted in Michigan either does not vote, votes third party, or, God forbid, chooses Trump over Biden in November, then Biden will surely lose the state," Rosenthal wrote. "If Biden loses Michigan, as Hillary Clinton lost it to Trump in 2016, his path to electoral victory becomes exceedingly difficult."

"Simply put, Biden needs to come up with votes, and quickly, at a time when he only seems to be capable of losing them," Rosenthal added. "His administration's unflinching support for Israel's scorched earth campaign in Gaza has alienated core constituencies that Biden needed to win in 2020."

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