Michigan Voters Talk About How the War in Gaza Factored Into Their Decision

Michigan Voters Talk About How the War in Gaza Factored Into Their Decision

When Tuesday began, Mohanad Gazzaley, 18, was not registered to vote, and he had not previously heard of the campaign to vote “uncommitted” in protest of President Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza. Then, standing on the stoop of his parents’ home in Hamtramck, a Detroit suburb, he talked in the early afternoon with a canvasser from the Detroit chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

An hour later, Mr. Gazzaley was registered to vote, and he emerged from Hamtramck City Hall with two friends — also 18-year-old first-time voters — whom he had brought with him.

“I voted uncommitted for the Democratic Party because I want a cease-fire in Palestine,” said Saleh Zamzami, one of Mr. Gazzaley’s friends.

The devastating toll of the war in Gaza has sparked outrage across the United States, with protest movements taking hold in many cities and on college campuses. That anger may be felt most strongly in Michigan, which has some of the largest Arab American communities in the country, and where Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary offered an outlet to express it.

“What’s happening there is terrifying — to see kids dying, it’s just sad,” Mr. Gazzaley, whose family moved to the United States five years ago from Yemen, said as he chatted with the canvasser. He said he would tell his parents to vote, too.

But Ali Abbas, 44, of Dearborn, was unpersuaded by the campaign to vote “uncommitted.” He voted for Mr. Biden despite misgivings about his policies in the Middle East.

“He’s not perfect,” Mr. Abbas said. “But I don’t want to embarrass him. He’s a good man.”

Lon Herman, 73, said he had voted for Mr. Biden in 2020. But on Tuesday, he was volunteering with the Democratic Socialists to help with the “uncommitted” effort in Hamtramck.

“We need to make sure the White House knows its policy is unacceptable,” he said. But, he added, he expects he’ll vote for the president again. “If it’s between him and Trump, the Palestine issue would basically be a wash, so I’d have to hold my nose and vote for the Democrat, as I usually do.”

Michele Ross, 65, said she had voted for Mr. Biden as a statement of support amid growing criticisms of him, particularly his age.

“I think what people are pointing to as perhaps a decrease in mental capacity is not that whatsoever,” said Ms. Ross, who voted in East Grand Rapids. “I don’t think he has slowed down.”

Lindsay Briefel, a 34-year-old Democrat and nursing student, cast her ballot in Rockford, a small city north of Grand Rapids. She voted for the “uncommitted” option, citing Mr. Biden’s age and his handling of the war in Gaza, but said she could still vote for the president in November.

“My faith isn’t fully in Biden,” Ms. Briefel said. “I just don’t want to look like we’re not taking a stance on anything.”

James DuPree, a 31-year-old independent, said he has often leaned Democratic but was upset by the massive death toll of the war in Gaza. Mr. DuPree won’t vote for Mr. Biden again, he said. So he cast his vote for Nikki Haley instead.

That doesn’t mean he likes Ms. Haley, however.

“To the point about Nikki Haley,” Mr. DuPree said. “I say that kind of with throwing up in the back of my mouth a little bit, because she also — just last year — couldn’t acknowledge that slavery was the cause of the Civil War.

Monica Otlacan, 45, took the oath to become an American citizen last month, after having lived in the United States for 13 years. A native of Romania, Ms. Otlacan thought she would be more excited to exercise her newly minted voting rights. Instead, she said, she was not happy with any of her choices. She, too, voted for Ms. Haley in the Republican primary.

“I thought this would be different,” Ms. Otlacan said. “I’m not happy with what I have to choose from. Why are we here in this situation? There are so many people with potential in America. Why are we in this situation?”

Sam Easter contributed reporting.

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