Biden faces growing warning signs from 'uncommitted' vote

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President Biden lost more than half a million voters to the “uncommitted” movement in this year’s Democratic primaries, an effort that has netted 30 delegates across five states that has underscored frustration within his own party over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

With this week marking the last Democratic primaries in U.S. states for the 2024 election year, the “Uncommitted” movement netted 10 percent of the vote in New Mexico and nine percent in New Jersey, one of several states with a significant Arab American population.

Those states fall behind places like Michigan, where more than 101,000 voters earlier this year cast ballots against Biden and in Minnesota whose 45,000 votes netted the movement 11 delegates, the highest of any state.

The protest vote shows Biden facing the increasingly challenging task of pulling those voters back in before it’s too late, something Democrats say the campaign should be taking seriously.

“Of course they should be concerned,” one former Biden campaign aide said. “If they’re not planning to vote for [Biden], they’ve already been disappointed. Donald Trump is a disruptor and a change agent so he might be an appealing  alternative for some of those people.”

Polls show Biden and his political rival former President Trump running neck-and-neck, including in battleground states such as Michigan – though several polls have shown Trump running just ahead of Biden.

Trump netted just a fraction of the Arab American voters that Biden did in 2020, but the movement could mean that many of those same voters might just sit out the election this year.

The Abandon Biden movement, which is behind much of the effort for protest votes, declared on Thursday “the conclusion of the primary season and our relentless march toward the general election.”

“Our mission is clear: Joe Biden must be defeated,” the group said in a press release. “We will not stand by. We are mobilized, we are furious, and we are committed to ensuring Joe Biden is defeated in the general election. The time for accountability is now.”

Since the protest vote effort was launched, Biden has offered a cease-fire deal that would, for the first time, lead to a lasting end to the war in Gaza – but that has done little to appease some of those behind the effort to go against the Democratic president.

While those angered by Biden’s handling of the war told The Hill in November that the president could still work to earn their vote, Abandon Biden’s rhetoric has become a full-throated refusal to vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee in November.

The movement said on Thursday that “Biden’s speeches are nothing but Diplomacy Theater, a grotesque display of blame-shifting while the massacre rages on” and that Israel’s “death machine is fueled by Biden’s policies.”

Trump, meanwhile, has called Biden “weak” on Israel and vowed to “fix his mess” if he’s reelected, though he remains short on specifics on how he would do so. The president’s Middle East policies angered many Arab Americans, including Trump’s policy of banning people from Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the U.S.

The 30 delegates earned by the “Uncommitted” vote spans five states with Minnesota granting 11 delegates, Kentucky and Hawaii each granting 7 delegates, Missouri granting three delegates and Michigan granting two delegates. 

Michigan voters, however, turned out the most out of any state with its more than 100,000 votes cast. A total of 650,000 votes were cast across those states.

Biden may also be facing a problem with lawmakers of his own party.

One Democratic lawmaker, who asked to not be identified, told The Hill that there are people like Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) telling people not to vote for Biden over his handling of the war and people are listening, adding to issues for the Biden campaign.

Tlaib, a progressive lawmaker, said earlier that year that she was “proud” to vote uncommitted in the Michigan primary to voice her frustration over the war in Gaza.

“The president obviously has to reach out to uncommitted voters and appeal to their concerns,” said David Castagnetti, who was top liaison to Congress for former Democratic nominee John Kerry’s presidential run.

He reiterated the notion however that polling indicates voters are more concerned about the economy than foreign policy issues in cycle – an argument the Biden campaign has also used to address the protest vote.

A poll from the New York Times/Siena College/Philadelphia Inquirer conducted from April 28 to May 9 found Trump leading in five of the six battleground states and found the economy was the most important issue deciding who people will vote for in November, with foreign policy ranking the ninth most important issue.

Arab and Muslim Americans and young Americans are the most prominent uncommitted voters, but many Black and Hispanic voters, who were critical to Biden’s win in 2020, are also voicing concerns.

The NAACP on Thursday said that Biden could build his support with Black voters if he halts sales of weapons to Israel. A In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda with PerryUndem poll found 24 percent of Black voters identified the Israel-Hamas war as “extremely important” to them ahead of the election.

While there’s the threat of these voters staying home or voting for a third party candidate, Biden can make up for losing them by expanding to moderate voters, some say.

“The trap for the Biden team is the temptation to overtly appeal to these stray Democratic primary voters on the far left. They will never be satisfied,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way.

“The gold mine of new votes for Biden will be in the center. Biden has to continue to make a strong case about securing the border, reducing crime and bringing inflation down.  That’s the ticket,” he added.

The idea for Biden to expand his campaign to not rely only on the voters who won him the White House in 2020, which includes progressives who may be voting against him over Israel, comes as Biden is polling 0.8 percentage points behind Trump, according to an aggregation of polls from Decision Desk HQ/The Hill.

When asked about the uncommitted movement with the Democratic primaries being all but over, the Biden campaign responded, “The President believes making your voice heard and participating in our democracy is fundamental to who we are as Americans.”

“He shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace in the Middle East.  He’s working tirelessly to that end,” a campaign spokesperson added.

While voters angered by Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza have to decide whether they’d prefer another Trump White House over Biden, Democrats also point to protest votes against Trump as something he also has to worry about.

“Since Super Tuesday and [former South Carolina Gov. Nikki] Haley’s exit from the race, Donald Trump has won 80 percent of the vote while Biden has won 87 percent. It shows that both candidates have work to do, but Trump has significantly more,” Kessler said.

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