Feb 25, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Arab Americans in Michigan could deliver Biden's first blow

Photo illustration of President Biden collaged with Arab and Pro-Palestine protestors.

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Bloomberg, SOPA Images, Jeff Kowalsky via Getty Images

Michigan activists want to shock and shame the Biden campaign in the state's Tuesday primary to take seriously the risk of losing the support of Muslim and Arab Americans.

Why it matters: The war in Gaza has hurt President Biden's support among the same voters who were crucial to him flipping the state from Trump in 2020.

Activists want voters to back "uncommitted" instead of Biden.

  • Biden has lost the community "at a fundamental level," says Abbas Alawieh, a spokesperson for the Listen to Michigan campaign, during Israel's military strikes — described as the most destructive in recent history.
  • "[T]his is a warning to Biden like, get your s--t together or you're going to lose," said Adam Abusalah, a Dearborn native who worked on Biden's 2020 campaign and is also pushing an "uncommitted" vote.
  • Local Arab American leaders refused to meet with a top Biden campaign adviser last month.

Between the lines: Biden was targeted in New Hampshire's primary with a "ceasefire" write-in campaign that mostly went nowhere.

  • Michigan has significant Muslim and Arab American populations and boasts high-profile Squad member Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who is pushing for "uncommitted."

Zoom in: "There are a lot of intense feelings here in Michigan right now," Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) told Axios.

  • "I don't think we needed the 'uncommitted' vote on Tuesday for the White House to understand that there are really just a lot of hurting people in Michigan."
  • One prominent Michigan Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Biden team has been "late" to respond to the backlash from Arab American and young voters.

The other side: "I don't think Joe Biden is going to be embarrassed on Tuesday," Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) told Axios.

  • Stevens has seen "lots of energy and enthusiasm" for Biden in her district and has "not seen any movement otherwise really penetrate."
  • "[H]e is working tirelessly to create a just, lasting peace in the Middle East," a Biden campaign spokesperson told NPR.
  • Ensuring Trump doesn't become president is greater than any single cause, local Democratic leader and Wayne County Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch tells Axios.

Zoom out: Biden is "making a mistake similar to the one George Bush did," Alawieh told Axios.

  • Michigan's growing Arab American population voted more Republican until the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s.
  • Trump's campaign is courting these disillusioned voters, and met with local Republicans, including Arab Americans, after a rally earlier in February, the Detroit Free Press reported.
  • This year, some conservative leaders in the majority Muslim city of Hamtramck are again embracing Republican politics. The City Council last year banned the public display of the Pride flag.
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