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Michigan's largest Arab American cities reject Biden over his handling of Israel-Hamas war

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Dearborn, Mich. -

Dearborn and two other Michigan cities with large Arab and Muslim populations turned against U.S. President Joe Biden in the state’s primary after Democratic leaders there warned for months that voters were angry about his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

While Biden won the state with more than 623,000 votes, the results in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck highlight the challenge his reelection campaign faces in a swing state that each major party has said they must win to take the White House in November. More than 100,000 Michigan Democratic primary voters cast ballots for “uncommitted” in the race, enough to pick up two delegates.

“In the city of Dearborn we have demonstrated that the issue of Gaza is not an issue that is only of concern to Arab Americans and Muslim Americans. But this is an issue to all Americans from coast to coast,” Dearborn’s Democratic mayor, Abdullah Hammoud, told a crowd Tuesday night as votes rolled in.

Indeed, the “uncommitted” push is expected in other states. Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said Wednesday that a portion of Minnesota’s Somali population, the largest in the country, is likely to vote “uncommitted” in his state’s primary next week. Additionally, a nationwide “Abandon Biden” campaign has seen momentum in other key swing states.

In 2020, Biden enjoyed a roughly 3-to-1 advantage in Dearborn, where nearly half of the city’s 110,000 residents are of Arab descent. In recent months, the city has become the epicenter of Democratic backlash to Biden’s support of Israel in the war in Gaza that began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents Dearborn and is the first Palestinian American woman to serve in Congress, advocated loudly for the “uncommitted” vote.

Biden dispatched senior officials from both his campaign and administration to the Dearborn area in recent months, aiming to address the backlash.

Yet close to 6,500 Dearborn voters cast their vote “uncommitted,” totaling 56 per cent of the vote to Biden’s 40 per cent. The results were even starker in Muslim-majority Hamtramck, where “uncommitted” received 61 per cent of the total vote. Hamtramck voted for Biden in 2020 by a 5-to-1 margin.

California Rep. Ro Khanna, a Biden surrogate who has called for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, traveled to Dearborn last week to speak with community leaders. He said Tuesday's results showed that the Biden campaign has “a lot of work to do.”

“This is showing that there are particular groups of our coalition that are upset,” Khanna said. “The White House understands that they’ve got to make certain changes in language and action to win back voters in the Arab and Muslim American community and young voters.”

Hammoud and other top Arab American leaders were joined by dozens of supporters at an election night watch party at a restaurant in Dearborn to eat, dance and celebrate as the “uncommitted” votes rolled in.

Many organizers immediately called the primary results a success, as the campaign's goal of 10,000 “uncommitted” votes was accomplished soon after polls closed.

“It is not surprising that it grew this big. And we are just celebrating this victory right now. And we need Joe Biden to listen to the voice of Michiganders,” said Layla Elabed, a sister of Tlaib's and the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan, which led the “uncommitted” push.

Questions linger over whether the backlash could swing November's election. Trump and other Republicans also support Israel in its war with Hamas. And while Michigan's Arab American population is the largest in the nation by density, it represents just under 3 per cent of the entire state's population.

Unofficial results put the “uncommitted” total at close to 13 per cent of overall vote in Michigan's Democratic primary. In 2012, during Barack Obama’s reelection bid, “uncommitted” received nearly 21,000 votes, 11 per cent of the total.

Cappelletti reported from Lansing, Mic.. Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont contributed to this report from St. Paul, Minn.

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