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Biden's stance on Israel-Hamas war sows reelection risks

Josh Wingrove, David Welch, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

Turmoil in the Middle East poses a risk to President Joe Biden’s reelection bid, threatening to sap turnout among some of his key supporters — and possibly flip the race to Donald Trump.

Tuesday’s primary in the crucial swing state of Michigan may deliver a symbolic rebuke to the president’s handling of the Gaza crisis. Much of its sizable Arab-American population blames Biden for siding with Israel and failing to stop the war. Many younger voters and Black Americans agree, and there’s a grassroots push to vote “uncommitted” instead of endorsing the president, who has no serious challengers for the Democratic nomination.

“The message is: we need a permanent cease-fire in Gaza to save lives and end funding for Israel,” said Layla Elabed, campaign manager for the group and sister of Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat whose parents come from the West Bank. “The hope is Biden will feel the pressure of losing core constituents and will act.”

The danger may not lie in losing votes directly to Trump, whose administration was strongly pro-Israel and belligerent toward Iran. Rather, it’s that members of Biden’s fragile 2020 coalition will just stay home or vote third-party in numbers large enough to swing a tight race. Even outside Michigan, Biden and his aides have been heckled over the administration’s strong support for Israel in its war in Gaza at campaign events.

There’s also simmering tension with Iran and its Houthi allies targeting Red Sea shipping – contained for now, but carrying the risk of an escalation that could send gasoline prices soaring and hurt the president at the ballot box.

Biden’s campaign believes it’s too early to determine how the Gaza crisis will affect November’s election, aides familiar with the thinking said. The president said Monday a cease-fire could come as early as next week, but didn’t indicate if it would be permanent. The campaign believes the current outcry is for an end to the fighting and there’s no evidence yet that voters are firmly locked in against Biden, people close to the effort said.

 

Elabed underlined that the uncommitted drive is about sending a message to the White House now, not an indication of support for Trump in November, given his record of policies many see as anti-Muslim. “This is not an anti-Biden vote,” she said.

Michigan is one of the longtime Democratic strongholds that flipped to Trump in 2016, handling him the presidency before Biden won it back. The president’s path to another win in the state – which he carried by about 150,000 votes in 2020 — involves assembling a broad cohort including Arab-Americans but also union members, Black and suburban voters, one campaign official said.

The state has an estimated 70,000 Arab and Muslim voters, a bloc that has supported Democrats three-to-one since the early 2000s, according to Mark Grebner, founder of voting-research firm Practical Political Data in Lansing.

The uncommitted campaign is hoping to get as many as 10% of the votes Tuesday, and some powerful Democrats are concerned.

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