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Voters in Wisconsin's primary are sending a political warning to President Biden

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Polls close in Wisconsin's presidential primaries next week. President Biden is already considered his party's presumptive nominee. But Wisconsin voters who are critical of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war want it to cost him at the ballot box. The efforts follow other states where voters have tied their primary support to the war in Gaza. But as Chuck Quirmback of member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports, there's pushback.

CHUCK QUIRMBACK, BYLINE: Leaders of what's now called the uncommitted national movement, encouraged by protest votes in the Michigan and Minnesota primaries, want to send a political warning to President Biden about November. That push has landed in the battleground state of Wisconsin.

HALEH AHMAD: And today, we're here to officially launch our campaign to vote uninstructed.

QUIRMBACK: That's Haleh Ahmad, a Palestinian American who was a spokesperson for Listen to Wisconsin. The coalition of pro-Palestinian and other activist groups say Biden has sent too much military aid to Israel and hasn't done enough to bring about a lasting cease-fire. Organizers say they hope to get at least 20,000 voters in the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary to mark their ballots for what's called the uninstructed delegation. Twenty thousand votes would roughly equal Biden's margin of victory over Donald Trump in Wisconsin four years ago. During early voting this week, a Palestinian American from Milwaukee, Amein Zeidat, says he marked his ballot for uninstructed.

AMEIN ZEIDAT: None of the candidates that are affecting us right now are doing what's good for us, and I'm tired of it.

QUIRMBACK: But a Jewish voter, Alexa Safer, says she cast her early ballot for the president.

ALEXA SAFER: I think that the idea of voting uninstructed is very cute, but it's not going to accomplish anything. I think leftists do this a lot. They run their wheels, but in the end, Biden is going to be the candidate.

QUIRMBACK: Another Jewish voter from the Milwaukee area, Judy Coran, says she's also backing the president, partly because of his handling of the war in the Middle East.

JUDY CORAN: You know, this situation is extremely complex. He has pressures from so many sides, but he has demonstrated that he has Israel's back from the very beginning of this.

QUIRMBACK: Yet, to win Wisconsin in November, the president may need to keep the coalitions that helped him in 2020. And right now, there is some fraying. Kyle Johnson of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities says if there's no permanent cease-fire in Gaza, he won't vote for Joe Biden this fall.

KYLE JOHNSON: I can't look myself in the mirror as a human being and know that my tax dollars, which I already have limited control over, are going to fund this genocide. But what I can control is my vote.

QUIRMBACK: Earlier this year, Israel rejected claims of genocide, brought by South Africa, at the International Court of Justice, saying Israel recognizes the suffering of civilians in Gaza but insists Israel had no genocidal intent. The high civilian death toll, Israel argued, was the consequence of Hamas waging war among noncombatants. Following the Hamas-led October 7 attacks on Israel, which Israel says killed around 1,200 people, Israel launched a counteroffensive that has killed more than 32,000. That's according to Gaza health officials. And global hunger experts say famine is imminent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: For those in favor of the draft resolution contained in document...

QUIRMBACK: Just this week, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution demanding a cease-fire in Gaza for the rest of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and a return of more than 130 hostages held by Hamas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The draft resolution has been adopted as the...

QUIRMBACK: The U.S. abstained, allowing the measure to pass. Ahmad says that is not enough.

AHMAD: This kind of move is like drawing somebody in for a hug only to stab them. It's truly superficial.

QUIRMBACK: In a statement to NPR, the Biden-Harris campaign says the president believes that making your voice heard is fundamental to who we are as Americans and that Biden shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmback in Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Chuck Quirmback
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