Michigan takeaways: Presidential primaries show warning signs for Trump and Biden

LANSING, MI — Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump easily won their party’s primaries in Michigan, but Tuesday’s results showed both candidates have reason to worry in their bid to win the swing state in November.

An “uncommitted” vote in Michigan’s Democratic primary was the first indication of how the response to President Biden’s handling of the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza could impact his re-election campaign. Trump won his primary by a wide margin, but support for rival Nikki Haley again showed that some Republican voters may have reservations about giving the former president another four years in the general election.

Here are some takeaways from Michigan:

Michigan was the last major primary before Super Tuesday, and both parties were closely watching the impact on the November general election in one of the few true swing states left in the country.

Biden has now scored victories over lesser-known candidates in South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire, which he won in a write-in campaign. Tuesday’s results show his position is still strong in Michigan, where Biden returned to the Democratic column in 2020.

Trump has won all five early state contests, including South Carolina, rival Haley’s home state. He now heads into Super Tuesday, when 15 states and one territory hold Republican nominating contests, as the overwhelming favorite to clinch the Republican nomination.

Michigan was one of three so-called blue wall states, including Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that Trump won in 2016. He predicted a great victory in advance.

Only 16 of Michigan’s 55 presidential delegates will be determined based on primary results, with the remaining delegates allocated at a convention on March 2. Trump’s expected dominance at the state convention, where grassroots activists will play a key role, will decide the allocation of the remaining 39 delegates.

Michigan has become the focus of Democratic frustration over the White House’s actions in the Israel-Hamas conflict. It has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the country.

That anger came through loud and clear on Tuesday, when some voters marked “not committed” as they voted in the Democratic primary. Biden still dominated the primaries, but the outcome could be worrisome in a state he won by less than 3% in 2020 and likely can’t afford to lose this year if he wants to win a second term.

The organizers of the “unaligned” movement had deliberately kept expectations low, having only begun their action in earnest a few weeks ago. The “Listen to Michigan” campaign that organized the push said they were hoping for 10,000 votes, pointing to Trump’s victory by fewer than 11,000 votes in 2016 to demonstrate the significance of that number.

When Barack Obama ran for reelection in 2012, the last time an incumbent Democratic presidential candidate sought reelection, the “uncommitted” option received nearly 21,000 votes — or 11 percentage points.

The “uncommitted” vote total would have to be between 20 and 30 percentage points before Democrats could worry about their impact in November, said Richard Czuba, a pollster who has long followed Michigan politics.

“Twenty percent catches my attention. If it goes up to 25%, that will get a lot more attention and if it goes above 30%, I think that’s a signal that Joe Biden has some pretty substantial problems in his base,” Czuba said.

A large portion of the “uncommitted” vote was expected to come from the east side of the state, in communities like Dearborn and Hamtramck, where Arab Americans represent nearly half the population. Biden won Dearborn by a roughly 3-to-1 margin in 2020 and Hamtramck by a 5-to-1 margin.