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Michigan primary a test for GOP, Democratic unity

President Joe Biden and Donald Trump are the front runners to winning the Democratic and Republican nominations for the 2024 general election.
Ron Przysucha
State Department
President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump appear poised to come out on top of Michigan Presidential Primary, but other campaigns are eyeing the number two spot as a possible strategic win.

With Saturday’s South Carolina GOP presidential primary out of the way, the race for Republican and Democratic delegates turns to tomorrow’s Michigan primary.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump appear poised to come out on top, but other campaigns are eyeing the number two spot as a possible strategic win.

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley isn’t dropping out, but had hoped for better in her home state after a series of primary losses to former President Donald Trump.

“South Carolina has spoken," Haley told a crowd of supporters after her loss. "We’re the fourth state to do so. In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak. They have the right to a real choice.”

Trump told his supporters he’s on a roll toward wrapping up the GOP nomination.

“I have never seen the Republican Party as united as it is right now,” he said.

Michigan is the next state on the calendar. Former state Representative Pamela Hornberger is a Haley supporter. Hornberger says she’s concerned if Trump is the GOP nominee, November of 2024 could look like a repeat of the 2020 election, when Biden bested Trump in Michigan by 50.6 percent to 47.8 percent.

“You know, having had that experience of having many Trump voters tell me that they didn’t vote for him the second time. It’s pretty scary going into it thinking that he and Joe Biden going head to head and we could lose again,” Hornberger said.

The primary is only part of the battle for GOP convention delegates. Michigan Republicans are using an unusual hybrid system to choose delegates. Any Michigan voter can participate in the primary. This coming Saturday, three quarters of Michigan’s convention delegates will be selected by party faithful at congressional district caucuses. There may be multiple Republican caucuses as Michigan’s messy nomination process is caught up in a fight over leadership of the state party.

On the Democratic side, Biden is trying to use the primary to fire up his party’s traditional coalition. He made a visit to Warran earlier this month to shore up his standing with union workers.

“You know Wall Street didn’t build the middle class. Labor built the middle class and the middle class built the country,” Biden said.

But Biden’s challenge in Michigan may not be the economy so much as foreign policy, and dissenters who could carry their anger into November. Michigan is home to one of the nation’s largest middle-eastern populations. The President faces big pushback for his response to Israel’s assault on Gaza that’s resulted in more than 30,000 deaths, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

This primary gives Michigan voters who may not like Trump the opportunity to also register their dissatisfaction with Biden by voting “uncommitted” in the Democratic primary.

Doctor Mohammad Alam joined a recent demonstration at the state Capitol. He says he feels betrayed after voting for Biden in 2020.

“Right before the election, the Muslim-American community, we sat down with him. We voted for him. We gave him the victory. But at the end of the day, three years down the line, it’s all fake, empty and false promises,” Alam said.

Alam says Biden’s failure to bring a cease-fire to Gaza is a deal breaker. He says a vote for “uncommitted” convention delegates will send a message to the president and to Democrats —since Michigan is considered a “must-win” swing state in November.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a national co-chair of the Biden reelection campaign, who says she is troubled by the “uncommitted” effort. Whitmer says she understands the “angst” people are feeling.

“It’s real and we are proud to be home to a diverse population here in Michigan. This is a very high stakes election and I would encourage people to vote for who represents what they value and where they think we should head as a nation,” Whitmer said.

Thousands of primary voters have already made their choices as Michigan’s nine-day early in-person voting period just ended. People can still drop off absentee ballots or show up at the polls before their votes are counted and their messages delivered.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network.