Will Maryland’s ‘uncommitted’ primary voters sway Biden administration on Gaza cease-fire?

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A coalition of progressive voters is celebrating the “historic impact” of its efforts to pressure President  Biden to call for a cease-fire in Gaza, by getting 10% of Democrats to buck the president and vote “uncommitted” in Tuesday’s primary.

But analysts said that the 47,587 “uncommitted” votes cast Tuesday are likely “not fatal” to Biden’s general election campaign.

“Neither of these candidates can take any voter for granted. And both of them have to pay attention to any defections,” Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said of Biden and likely Republican nominee Donald Trump.

“But the question is: are the defections outside of the norm of history. And at least when it comes to Biden and the uncommitted vote, the answer is no, it does not,” he said.

But members of Listen to Maryland, a coalition of frustrated voters are declaring a “resounding expression of protest” against the Biden administration.

Listen to Maryland representative Anna Evans-Goldstein, a 36-year-old Baltimore resident, said the protest vote is “to push for the Biden administration to actually listen to the voters who voted him into office.” She said she was pleased with Tuesday’s results.

“Electoral politics is one of the tools at our disposal in this democracy to register dissent,” she said. “In primary elections, since we have an uncommitted option in Maryland, it is a way for voters to signal to the leader of the party and the party itself that they disagree with a particular stance, the policies and what’s going on.”

She noted that there were 23,725 uncommitted Democratic votes in 2020, about 2.3% of the Democratic primary vote that year. The number nearly doubled this year, when there were fewer overall voters, accounting for just over 10% of the vote, according to unofficial results.

But Eberly says that comparing Tuesday’s results to the 2020 primaries is an “apples to oranges” comparison, because there were more than a dozen Democratic candidates on the ballot then, including relatively popular alternatives to Biden such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Eberly says the more apt comparison is the 2012 Democratic primary, when incumbent President Barack Obama was seeking reelection. That year, 37,704 Democrats voted uncommitted, or about 11.5% of 288,766 total votes the primary.

“Joe Biden did better than Barack Obama did when he was seeking reelection,” Eberly said. “So it’s hard to view that as any kind of victory, moral or otherwise, for the folks who were organizing the uncommitted vote.”

Maryland is the latest in a string of states with an uncommitted voter campaign, and Listen to Maryland supporters say the primary results add to a coalition of voters who are frustrated with the options at hand.

In March, 13% of Michigan’s Democratic primary voters cast uncommitted ballots, followed by 19% of Democrats in Minnesota, among other states.

It’s not clear how the uncommitted primary voters will act in the general presidential election come November — whether they’ll abstain from the election altogether, ultimately vote for Biden or seek a third option.

Patrick Oray, a 56-year-old Baltimore high school teacher, said this was the first year he voted uncommitted in the primary.

“We’ve been disgusted with what’s going on in Gaza and our supports, military and financial, of Israel in Gaza,” Oray said. “And we have to say something.”

That said, he will “probably” vote for Biden in November, even if the president does not call for a cease-fire.

But Daljit Soni, 43, an attorney and the daughter of immigrants from northern India, said she is not sure how she’ll vote if Biden doesn’t pause aid to Israel.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” she said. “I’m not sure what I am going to do if he doesn’t change course.”

Evans-Goldstein said the Listen to Maryland campaign is over and it not will provide directions for what its voter bloc should do in the general election.

“I can’t speak to what anybody is going to do from now on,” she said. “This was exclusively a campaign focused on the primaries.”

Maryland’s Republican Party took note of the 47,000 uncommitted Democratic voters, who they see as potential targets to recruit in the general election.

“My initial assessment is that President Biden has lost some of his voter base … he needs to be able to win them back,” said Maryland GOP Chairwoman Nicole Beus Harris. “It also tells me that those Democrat voters are perhaps even questioning bigger overall things, the presidential policies or even Democrat policy in general, that they might agree with Republicans on policy standpoints and our plans for America.”

The Biden campaign responded to the uncommitted vote, saying the president “believes making your voice heard and participating in our democracy is fundamental to who we are as Americans.” But those voters and the president have the same goals, the officials said.

“He shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace in the Middle East. He’s working tirelessly to that end,” said Lauren Hitt, a campaign spokesperson.

Eberly also noted that 20.55% of Maryland Republicans bucked Trump on Tuesday and cast their votes for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who dropped out of the GOP race in March. That indicates that the Republican Party has a similar “enthusiasm problem” that will need to be addressed, Eberly said.

Given the choice, Eberly said he “would rather the 10% uncommitted than the 20% who voted for Nikki Haley on the Republican side.”

“I think that the Biden campaign is going to be more interested in trying to attract the 20% of Haley voters than they are going to worry about the 10% uncommitted,” he said.

“Both of these candidates have flaws. I think it’s safe to say that voters aren’t excited that either of them are the nominee of their party, and I think that is something that they both have to overcome in November,” Eberly said.

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