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Drama accompanies Biden, Trump victories in Michigan primaries

Former Congressman and Ambassador Pete Hoekstra, on stage during the Michigan GOP's primary election party. Former President Trump easily won the state's Republican primary, and remains on track for the general election in November. President Biden was the Democratic winner. (Photo: Colin Jackson/MPRN)
Colin Jackson
Former Congressman and Ambassador Pete Hoekstra, on stage during the Michigan GOP's primary election party. Former President Trump easily won the state's Republican primary, setting up a 2020 rematch with President Biden. (Photo: Colin Jackson/MPRN)
• Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden won the Michigan's Republican and Democratic primaries.

• A Kent County judge recognized Hoekstra as Michigan GOP chair, resolving a leadership dispute within the state party.

• There was a strong vote for Democratic convention delegates to be "uncommitted" to any candidate, meant as a protest against the Biden administration's handling of Israel's invasion of Gaza.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump won Michigan’s Democratic and Republican primaries Tuesday as they continued their inexorable marches toward their parties’ nominations and rematch of the 2020 race.

“We win Michigan, we win the whole thing,” Trump said in a phone call to the Michigan GOP’s primary night party in Grand Rapids. “We have to win on November 5th, and we’re going to win big and it’s going to be like nothing that anybody’s ever seen.”

The Michigan primary preceded next week’s decisive “Super Tuesday” when 16 states and one U.S. territory will host primaries and caucuses.

Before losing in Michigan, Trump’s only remaining rival, former South Carolina Governor and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said she intends to remain in the race at least through Super Tuesday.

Only a portion of Michigan’s delegates to the Republican National Convention were awarded in the Tuesday primary. Most will be chosen at caucuses planned for Saturday in Grand Rapids.

Judge says Hoekstra is state GOP leader

Trump’s primary victory came on the same day that the man he backed to lead the Michigan GOP, former Congressman and U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra, won a court ruling recognizing him as party chair.

The decision by a Kent County judge is an important step toward resolving a long and complex leadership dispute that pitted a faction backing Hoekstra against former chair Kristina Karamo and her supporters. They can still appeal the decision to higher courts.

Hoekstra said the court's decision has traditional election year players starting to feel optimistic after months of turmoil.

“There’s been a lot of people who have been working over the last year because they saw a vacuum in the party — a vacuum in the political environment that there was not a state party they could work with.

The response is, ‘Wow, we got the party back a year early,’” Hoekstra told reporters.

On social media, Karamo accused political insiders of sabotaging her tenure as chair. She argued the Kent County court case came down to a matter of interpretation of the party’s bylaws as to whether she was properly removed last month.

The interpretation should be simple, and "engineering" complexity in the court case would "serve a predetermined outcome," Karamo wrote.

'Uncommitted' voters show up in key areas

A drama also marred Biden’s primary victory with a strong vote for Democratic National Convention delegates uncommitted to any candidate. That was part of an organized effort to protest Biden’s handling of Israel’s invasion of Gaza. Areas of the state with many Muslims, Arab-Americans, progressives and younger voters showed high numbers voting uncommitted.

Democrats angered over the conflict are demanding a shift in strategy by Biden and said they are willing to risk throwing the election to stand in opposition to the military campaign that has killed tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the conflict, according to the UN.

Michigan’s significant numbers of Arab-American and Muslim voters helped propel Biden to victory in 2020.

The Council on Islamic Relations (CAIR) and its Michigan chapter announced it commissioned an automated telephone survey of 527 Muslim voters Tuesday that found the vast majority voted “uncommitted” in the primary.

“Based on our exit poll and our interactions with Muslim voters, it appears that President Biden's unconditional support for the Israeli government's genocide in Gaza is likely playing a decisive factor in impacting his support within the Muslim and Arab-American communities,” said CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw.

The UN's top court is hearing a case brought by South Africa that accuses Israel of committing genocide. Israel denies the charges and says it's fighting in self defense.

Michigan Democrats are looking to repair frayed relationships with Muslim and Arab-American voters ahead of what’s expected to be a hard-fought and close presidential contest.

“The pain is real and deep and true. I recognize it and so does Joe Biden,” Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes told Michigan Public Radio. “This is a man of tremendous empathy and compassion. No one should ever question that.”

Barnes said she expects a broad swath of Michigan voters will support Biden in November over Trump. Michigan is considered a critical swing state.

“I think the president has been listening to these folks and will continue to listen to these folks,” she said. “… This isn’t the end. This is the beginning of this general election.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.