President Biden is heading to one of the most pivotal states key to his 2024 re-election bid — and also the one that may prove to be his biggest obstacle.
Biden on Thursday will arrive in Michigan, a critical battleground where the president has had something of a mixed reception. While it helped propel him to victory in 2020, an endorsement from one of the country’s largest labor unions only came after a very noticeable delay.
And in one of the nation’s most populated Arab-American communities, which helped him win that first-term, Biden faces feelings of deep betrayal for how he has handled the Israel-Hamas war.
“It’s a competitive state and the Arab American issue is one that’s got to be taken seriously,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) told Truth Puke in an interview. “We have to talk to them and we’re gonna. Those issues are very serious ones.”
Dingell, a Biden ally whose husband also represented Michigan in Congress for nearly 60 years, outlined other issues facing Democrats there, too while noting her own history with trying to convince her party that her home state could be up for grabs.
“Nobody believed me when I said Michigan was competitive in 2015, 2016,” she said. “I have one thing on my side — people recognize Michigan’s competitive this year.”
Other voter contingents Democrats need to work on, Dingell said, was attracting young voters, who have sometimes expressed in polls less than stellar enthusiasm for Biden.
“We got to excite young people and get them to turn out the way that they did two years ago,” she said, referring to the 2022 midterms that proved far less detrimental to Democrats than had been expected.
“It is wonderful that [UAW president] Shawn Fain has endorsed the president. He has made the very stark contrast between Donald Trump and Joe Biden and why the UAW has endorsed him. But now we got to get into every union hall and make sure the workers themselves understand the contrast,” she said.
Fain himself acknowledged that despite the high-profile endorsement, he did not expect a bulk of his own union members to vote for Biden. Democrats lost many union workers in 2020 in states like Ohio to former President Trump, whose anti-free trade message and other rhetoric resonated with the labor vote.
In 2016, union households had already somewhat started the shift from blue to red. That was also the year Trump secured victory in Michigan, with a dozen counties flipping from Democrat to Republican to help catapult him to his first term in the White House. It was the first time a Republican had won the state since the 1980s.
Recent polling in several battleground states have shown a close hypothetical matchup between Biden and Trump in 2024.
Biden trailed Trump 48 percent to 42 percent cumulatively across all of the swing states in a hypothetical match up, according to a Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll released on Wednesday. In Michigan, that poll found Biden trailed Trump 47 percent to 42 percent.
But, a MIRS-Target Insyght poll in January found Biden led Trump, 45 percent to 41 percent, among registered voters in Michigan.
Couple that with Biden’s support among Arab American voters plunging to just 17 percent in October, just after the war in Gaza started, with 25 percent in a poll conducted by the Arab American Institute saying they weren’t sure who they would vote for if the election were today.
Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes in 2020. More than 200,000 registered voters there are Muslim, according to NPR. Additionally, 300,000 Michiganders’ ancestors were immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.
In Dearborn, Arab Americans make up the majority of the population. Muslim voters in particular in Dearborn told Truth Puke in October that they are torn over what to do come November if the choice is Biden against Trump. Biden won 64 percent of the Muslim vote in 2020, and Trump won 35 percent, according to exit polling by The Associated Press.
Corwin Smidt, an associate professor in the political science department at Michigan State University, noted the general election is still roughly nine months away, which means it’s too soon to know whether there could be some kind of resolution in the Israel-Hamas war, or a shift from Biden on the situation in Gaza that could change Arab Americans’ views on the president.
But Smidt also noted that many surveys showing Biden with floundering approval numbers or trailing Trump could be a sign of voters expressing their discontent with the president more than indicating they support Trump.
“It seems like more of a case of whether they’re going to be mobilized to turn out to vote,” Smidt said.
Smidt pointed to strong approval ratings for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who is a co-chair for Biden’s reelection bid, to illustrate how the Democratic Party in the state remains strong, compared to the chaos that has engulfed the state GOP.
Meanwhile, the Biden campaign has stepped up its organizing in Michigan in recent months, hiring Ed Duggan – a former adviser to Whitmer (D) and the son of the Detroit mayor – to serve as the campaign’s state director there.
Biden is expected to further ramp up his travel to battleground states in general as the election cycle gets underway. Already this year he has visited Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and he will reportedly visit Nevada in the near future.
The Biden campaign has largely brushed off negative polling, saying it’s too soon for polls to be indicative of how Americans will vote in November.
Dingell echoed that notion, but noted Michigan’s importance, which Biden should be factoring into the campaign trail.
“Anybody who knows me knows that I will be nagging very hard for continued presence in Michigan. It is a purple state,” she said.