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What's next for uncommitted movement?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

As the presidential primary season wraps up, we're looking ahead to the general election and specifically to the Democratic voters who oppose President Biden's handling of the war in Gaza. They have made their opposition known on primary ballots by voting uncommitted or no preference or other options that simply are not Joe Biden. Well, the latest is that nine states will be sending uncommitted protest delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

As part of our We, The Voters series, we're checking in with reporters from two of those states, Clay Masters from Minnesota Public Radio - hey, Clay.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: Hi - and Colin Jackson with the Michigan Public Radio network. Hi, Colin.

COLIN JACKSON, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: All right. I'm going to let you start us off, Colin, in Michigan. Just remind us how this whole movement got going.

JACKSON: So as soon as the war began, people were calling for a cease-fire. You know, Metro Detroit is home to one of the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the country. And Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, has been long considered a cultural center for Arab and Muslim Americans.

KELLY: Sure.

JACKSON: So you see, many in that community - they say the war is personal, that they felt the impact of other U.S.-involved conflicts in the Middle East. And activists are viewing this as a moral issue, where they can't support an administration they see as actively providing the bombs that are falling on their loved ones.

So that led to a coalition of antiwar activists, and they set a pretty low bar for themselves for gaining uncommitted votes in the February 27 primary, and they easily passed it.

KELLY: And then this all spread from Michigan. I'm thinking the next big date on the presidential calendar was Super Tuesday. Clay, jump in because you were reporting there in Minnesota. How did it play there?

MASTERS: Yeah. The twin cities have a significant population of Muslim voters. Activists here really were able to capitalize on the momentum from Michigan in a short amount of time.

There was a lot of almost surprise from uncommitted folks at their watch party that night because at the end of the night, nearly 19% of Democratic voters in Minnesota chose the uncommitted option on their ballots as a protest. So uncommitted was able to pick up 11 delegates here on Super Tuesday.

And I do think we need to put this into perspective. As a whole, 36 uncommitted delegates are going on to the DNC Convention. More than 3,800 are delegates assigned to President Biden.

KELLY: A question for both of you, and I'll throw this your way first, Clay. How unified is the movement? What is the overall strategy going forward?

MASTERS: In a lot of ways, the same as it ever was - to try and persuade the president on foreign policy matters. The focus is still very much on a cease-fire but also calling on the president to condition aid to Israel and stop arms shipments.

JACKSON: And in Michigan, I'm hearing that they know they're outnumbered going into the Democratic National Convention this summer, and getting something on the official platform would be an uphill battle. But at the same time, they're saying this message is gaining traction with voters, and they don't want to be swept under the rug.

KELLY: OK, so Minnesota sending the most uncommitted delegates to the convention in Chicago - Clay, do you have a sense of how voters as a whole, like, across the state are feeling about all this?

MASTERS: A poll released this week commissioned by Minnesota Public Radio News, as well as the Star Tribune and KARE 11, shows it's not a top issue. This same poll shows a tight race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in Minnesota.

And I do want to note that I was able to ask one of the toughest Democratic critics of President Biden in Congress what message she has for the uncommitted voters. Minnesota's representative Ilhan Omar told me they need to keep the pressure on, but there's too much at stake to not vote for President Biden in November.

KELLY: So she's saying, like, you've got to steer your votes to Biden. OK, fascinating. Colin, you're in a state where the stakes are so high. Michigan is one of the handful of states that could decide this presidential election. How is the Biden campaign navigating this criticism of its handling of the war?

JACKSON: Well, you're seeing representatives from the campaign reaching out to community activists. Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have made a handful of trips to Michigan this year. And during some of those trips, especially ones in Detroit, they have faced some protesters. Even this past weekend, a protester interrupted a Harris speech she was giving at a big state Democratic Party fundraiser. Harris continued despite the interruption by highlighting some of the administration's cease-fire efforts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We have been working every day to bring this conflict to an end.

MASTERS: And I should note here in Minnesota, Mary Louise, I reached out to the Biden campaign for comment on how they're approaching the uncommitted folks within their party. They repeated a line we've heard since this all kind of started, that the president believes making your voice heard is fundamental in, quote, "who we are as Americans," and the president shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just lasting peace in the Middle East.

KELLY: Well, let me land on what it might take to get these protest voters on board and voting with Biden. I mean, as we know, the Biden administration has been working on a cease-fire plan. The idea is this would be phased. It would start with a six-week cease-fire. Hamas would release hostages. Then Israel and Hamas would negotiate a permanent end to the war. Israel would pull out of Gaza.

It's a lot. So many pieces, all so complicated - but if they were to manage to do all of that, I mean, Colin, would that be enough to gain the votes of these activists?

JACKSON: Simply put, no. I mean, two of the goals of the movement are a cease-fire, but it's also an end to the policy of supplying weapons to Israel. So, activists are pointing to the Biden administration. They say they spent months shooting down cease-fire resolutions at the U.N. before finally getting behind one. And they're saying without at least adding more conditions to the weapons Israel is receiving, activists say the president isn't catching up fast enough.

Abbas Alawieh is with the Listen to Michigan campaign. He's also an uncommitted delegate for the DNC.

ABBAS ALAWIEH: In order for us to believe that the president is being genuine in wanting to stop the killing, we need him to stop supplying the arms that are doing the killing.

MASTERS: Yeah, and that sentiment is shared by uncommitted delegates from Minnesota as well. Here's Asma Mohammed, one of the delegates who says, just because they're not pleased with Biden, though, doesn't mean they want Trump in the White House again.

ASMA MOHAMMED: We want our president to step forward and be a better candidate in November, and we're afraid of a Trump presidency, too. We don't want that.

MASTERS: I mean, and they'll take their message to the big stage at the DNC in August.

JACKSON: Yeah, organizers are looking for Biden to prove to their communities that he's willing to listen.

KELLY: All righty (ph). Reporting there from Colin Jackson of the Michigan Public Radio network and Clay Masters of Minnesota Public Radio. Thanks, you two.

MASTERS: You're welcome.

JACKSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD HOUGHTEN'S "FADING INTO PURPLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Clay Masters
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Colin Jackson
[Copyright 2024 Michigan Radio]