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Despite Michigan primary wins, signs of trouble for Trump and Biden

Joe Biden is sharp in the foreground, while Republican candidate Donald Trump is blurred in the background
President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump won Michigan’s presidential primaries on Tuesday, but it wasn’t all good news for either. (Below the Sky /
  • Joe Biden and Donald Trump dominated Michigan primaries, but experts say there are warning signs for each
  • Trump underperformed in suburban areas that cost him in 2020 but is expected to dominate the Michigan GOP’s weekend caucus conventions
  • Biden cruised statewide but 100,000 voters cast ‘uncommitted ballots’

LANSING — Democrats who moved up Michigan’s presidential primary this year to make the state more relevant succeeded in drawing more national attention, but it was not the kind of national attention many were hoping for. 

Instead of a victory lap for President Joe Biden, who had requested the calendar change, Michigan’s unusually early primary proved to be a showcase for the “uncommitted” protest vote against the incumbent Democrat. 

While the uncommitted vote failed to crack 15% statewide, national media flooded Michigan, particularly Arab American areas like Dearborn that became the focal point of opposition to Biden’s support for Israel in the Gaza war. 


“Michiganders loved to deliver messages in their presidential primaries,” said pollster Richard Czuba. “This was probably not the loudest message we've seen historically, but it was one of the messages.”


Voters in Kent, Ottawa and Oakland counties – which “for decades had been the breadbasket of Republican votes” – also sent a loud message to former President Donald Trump, Czuba said. 

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley won more than 30% of the GOP primary vote in each of those counties, showing Trump could again struggle with college-educated voters that cost him the 2020 election, Czuba said. 

For Republicans, Democrats’ decision to move the Michigan primary from early March to late February forced state officials to adopt a hybrid caucus system to avoid delegate penalties from the national party. 

That’s likely good news for Trump, who is expected to dominate Saturday caucuses that will actually be more important than the primary results for the GOP nomination. 

More on that, and other big Michigan primary takeaways, below. 

Uncommitted sends a message

Biden handily won every county in Michigan, which wasn’t surprising because no top-tier Democrat dared challenge him in the primary. But the contest was perhaps most notable for the number of voters who did not back him.

More than 100,000 Michiganders voted "uncommitted" in the Democratic primary, according to unofficial results, a symbolic gesture that for many signaled their opposition to Biden's handling of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

By raw numbers, it was an impressive feat for the "Listen to Michigan" campaign, which aimed to show Biden that war critics could potentially jeopardize his re-election bid if he doesn’t do more to stop Palestinian deaths. 


Biden beat Trump by 154,188 votes in Michigan four years ago, while Trump won the state by 10,704 votes in 2016. 

So 100,000 uncommitted votes is significant. And by topping 15% in two congressional districts, the uncommitted campaign will likely send at least some unbound Michigan delegates to the national Democratic convention in August.  

“Our movement emerged victorious tonight and massively surpassed our expectations,” Listen to Michigan organizers said on social media. “Tens of thousands of Michigan Democrats, many of whom voted for Biden in 2020, are uncommitted to his re-election due to the war in Gaza.”

The message wasn’t massive

But at just over 13% of the primary vote, “uncommitted” was not hugely consequential by historic standards in Michigan, where it has been a relatively popular option in past elections too. 

Point in case: 2012, when then-President Barack Obama (and then-Vice President Biden) ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination. That year, about 11% of Democratic primary voters cast uncommitted ballots. 

Obama went on to win the general election by nearly 10 percentage points over Republican nominee Mitt Romney. 

In 2008, 40% of Democratic primary voters — 238,168 people overall -— cast uncommitted ballots, largely to show their support for Obama, who wasn't on the Michigan ballot but won the nomination.


Organizers of this year’s uncommitted campaign did a good job on the public relations front, but their actual turnout “was a failure,” said Democratic strategist Adrian Hemond, founder of Grassroots Midwest in Lansing. 

“They barely got more percentage-wise than they did in 2012.” 

Still, Biden allies say the president will strive to win back uncommitted voters by the fall. They’ll try to do so by highlighting what Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week called a “stark choice” between Biden and Trump on other issues. 

Suburbs still a problem for Trump

Trump also won every county in the state on Tuesday. He topped 75% of the GOP primary vote in more than a third of them, including Macomb County, which has historically been a bellwether for statewide and national elections.

The results show Trump remains especially popular with Republicans in rural Michigan. He won two counties in the Upper Peninsula — Baraga and Luce — with more than 80% of the vote.


His worst performance was in the heavily Democratic Washtenaw County, where Trump got 50% of the vote compared to 45% for Haley. 

But the real warning signs for Trump came in vote-rich Kent and Oakland counties, which were key to Biden's 2020 win because suburban voters there fled Trump in large numbers, said Czuba, the pollster.

Haley ended up at 34% in Kent and 33% in Oakland, topping her statewide percentage of 27%. Trump still won both handily — he got 59% in Kent and 62% in Oakland — but his victory margins were not as wide as in many parts of the state.

Trump “lost 2020 Because of Oakland and Kent,” Czuba said. “And here he is again, with the exact same problem with Republicans in those counties. They've done nothing to mitigate what cost them the election in 2020.”

Campaign visits point to the importance of both regions. Trump recently held his first Michigan rally of the year in Oakland County. Haley campaigned in Oakland on Sunday and in Kent County on Monday. 

Most GOP delegates at stake in Saturday caucuses

Because she topped a 12.5% threshold required by state party rules, Haley stands to walk away from Michigan with at least three delegates to the Republican Party's national nominating convention in July.

While results are unofficial, Trump will likely win as many as 13 Michigan delegates because of his primary win.


But many more delegates will be at stake this weekend, when the Michigan Republican Party convenes for a series of congressional district caucus meetings. There, party activists will allocate a total of 39 presidential nominating delegates, a format experts predict will heavily favor Trump. 

The Michigan GOP adopted the hybrid delegate plan to avoid a delegate penalty after the state’s Democratic-led Legislature voted to move up the primary from early March, in violation of Republican National Committee rules. 

Kent County Judge  J. Joseph Rossi on Tuesday appeared to settle a bitter dispute over who will oversee the Michigan GOP caucus convention and where it will be held. He ruled Kristina Karamo was properly removed as state party chair last month, meaning Pete Hoekstra now officially leads the Michigan GOP. 

Hoekstra plans to hold the caucuses on Saturday in Grand Rapids at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and has cautioned activists against attending a separate Deroit convention Karamo had called.

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