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Five takeaways from the Michigan primaries

President Biden faced his first challenging day in the Democratic primary process on Tuesday as Michigan voters went to the polls.

The problem for the president was not the token opposition from Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) but, rather, the push for a protest vote over Biden’s vigorous support for Israel during its assault on Gaza.

The protest campaign, advocating for people to vote “uncommitted,” had a solid night. By 11:30 p.m. Eastern time, it had racked up more than 50,000 votes, or about 14 percent of all ballots cast.

Those numbers are sure to grow, with most votes in Wayne County — home to Detroit and Dearborn — still to be counted. 

On the Republican side, former President Trump won as expected. Trump had 67 percent of the vote at 11:30 p.m. by comparison to 27 percent for his last remaining rival, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Here are the main takeaways from the primaries.

A warning sign for Biden

The Democratic primary was not a catastrophe for Biden — he got about 80 percent of the vote, after all — but it was worrying.

In a battleground state where his margin of error in November will be slim, he bled tens of thousands of votes.

There was also chatter on Tuesday evening about activists in other states trying to replicate what the “Listen to Michigan” campaign pulled off in the Wolverine State.

That could be an uphill climb in places where Arab Americans are not such a large share of the population. In Michigan, there were also prominent voices — most notably Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud (D) — calling for an “uncommitted” vote.

The White House has been seeking to persuade voters it is at least hearing their concerns.

Earlier on Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged that the conflict in Gaza was “deeply painful” for many Arab Americans and said that the president “cares about what that community is feeling very deeply.”

But other voices emphasize how dissent over Biden’s policies extends beyond Arab Americans.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) told CNN on Tuesday evening that the ranks of the discontented included young people who “are watching innocent civilians being killed.”

Biden has a politically difficult challenge on Israel and the Palestinians, an issue that splits his party down the middle.

But the Michigan result made the gravity of the problem crystal clear.

Trump registers a solid win but questions remain

There’s no doubt at this point that Trump will be the GOP nominee, barring some truly stunning turn of events.

He was projected as the winner as soon as the final polls closed in Michigan at 9 p.m. Eastern.

The Trump train rolls on — but the result here was not entirely overwhelming.

Haley’s performance, likely earning somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of the vote when all ballots are counted, showed how many Republicans remain resistant to Trump, despite his apparent inevitability.

Yes, Trump’s victory was bigger in Michigan than in South Carolina on Saturday.

But South Carolina is Haley’s home state, where she twice won election as governor. In Michigan, she campaigned in-person for one day, on Sunday.

Trump, in brief remarks, contended that “the numbers are far greater than we even anticipated.”

It’s hard to imagine that’s true, given that polls were predicting a victory of almost 50 points.

It looks like Trump will fall short of that benchmark.

Haley staying in the game

Haley insists she is staying in the GOP contest at least until Super Tuesday on March 5.

The Michigan result makes that easy to do. 

Haley isn’t going to win but she can keep making the argument, as she did to CNN’s Dana Bash, that Trump is “not bringing people into the party, he’s pushing people out of the party.”

Asked by Bash to confirm she would stay in the race until Super Tuesday, Haley responded “absolutely.”

The former United Nations ambassador is scheduled to be in Utah on Wednesday, Virginia on Thursday, and Washington D.C., North Carolina, Massachusetts and Vermont in the following days.

She is also keeping up a solid schedule of media appearances — much to the irritation of Team Trump — and her campaign manager Betsy Ankney recently announced a seven-figure ad buy ahead of Super Tuesday, when 15 states will hold GOP contests.

The Michigan result lets Haley hang on as a standard-bearer for non-Trump Republicanism.

Be wary of general election predictions

In 2020, Biden won Michigan by roughly 150,000 votes — or slightly less than three percentage points.

In The Hill/Decision Desk HQ polling average, Trump leads by almost four points in a hypothetical match-up in the state this year.

Tuesday’s result underlines Biden’s problem in the state over the Middle East question.

But that being said, it’s highly implausible that the uncommitted voters on Tuesday are going to transfer their allegiance to Trump in November.

Biden’s defenders also note that the last time an incumbent Democratic president ran in a Michigan primary — President Obama in 2012 — “uncommitted” got more than 10 percent of all votes cast.

Obama went on to defeat GOP nominee Mitt Romney, whose father was once governor of Michigan, by almost 10 points in the state that November.

Likewise, in Trump’s case, the votes for Haley could easily return to his column in a general election.

Tuesday’s primaries exposed vulnerabilities for both leading candidates.

But it’s just not certain exactly how those weaknesses shake out in November.

Voters turned out, even when the results were obvious

No one seriously doubted that Biden and Trump were going to win on Tuesday, but voters showed up in strong numbers anyways.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) noted on Tuesday evening that “over 1 million citizens in Michigan had cast their ballots before any polls opened today.”

Benson also emphasized that she was pleased with the turnout “given that this was a primary election where arguably the contests on either side of the aisle were not as competitive as they have been in years past, comparatively.”

The final numbers will take some time to come in, but — despite the often-mentioned weaknesses of the leading candidates — Michiganders came out in force. 

Julia Mueller contributed.

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