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It's primary day in Michigan — an important swing state

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today is primary day in Michigan, and you may have noticed we are spending a lot of time talking about Michigan. That's because it's a big state, and it's been up for grabs. President Biden won by a little over 154,000 votes there four years ago, and four years before that, in 2016, former President Donald Trump won by just under 11,000 votes. To hear more about why the candidates are working so hard for Michigan votes and how they've been doing it, let's go to Ann Arbor with Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio Network. Rick, good morning.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's start with President Biden. What's at stake for him in Michigan?

PLUTA: Well, the president has been really working Michigan - courting union voters, supporters of reproductive rights and reminding people of Trump's efforts to reverse the election results in 2020. He says this is about the future of democracy. But he has a problem this year in Michigan, and it is reconciling with people like Dr. Mohammad Alam, who says he feels betrayed after voting for Biden in 2020. And it is because of Gaza.

MOHAMMAD ALAM: We voted for him. We gave him the victory. But at the end of the day, three years down the line, it's all fake, empty and false promises.

PLUTA: Michigan has a very large Muslim American population that's tended to go with Democrats, but this year, there's a movement that wants people to send a message by voting uncommitted in the primary.

MARTIN: How would that work?

PLUTA: Well, there's an option on the Michigan primary ballot, the Republican and Democratic ballots, to choose uncommitted. It is not a write-in. You just color in that bubble like you would as if voting for a candidate. So it's easy.

MARTIN: So what would success look like for this uncommitted movement?

PLUTA: Enough to show Biden he's at risk in Michigan, roughly 10,000 votes. That's close to Trump's 2016 margin of victory. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a Biden national campaign co-chair. She says she takes this uncommitted effort seriously.

GRETCHEN WHITMER: This was a very high-stakes election, and I would encourage people to vote affirmatively for the candidate that most represents what they value and where they think that we should head as a nation.

PLUTA: Whitmer wants people to do a comparison. Remember that Trump called for a Muslim ban, for example. She certainly doesn't want a Biden humiliation and would like to quell this movement so that anger doesn't linger into November.

MARTIN: So let's turn to Trump now. What is he looking for in Michigan?

PLUTA: It should seem like a low bar. Another win on the road to the nomination. But Michigan Republicans are caught up in factional disputes. He's got to keep his Trump coalition together, looking ahead to November. His past regarding abortion rights and LGBTQ rights could come back to haunt him with moderate voters.

MARTIN: And so what about Nikki Haley? She seems to be looking for those voters or independents. What's going on there?

PLUTA: Whatever it takes to keep going. A respectable showing in Michigan could help with fundraising and organizing to carry her into Super Tuesday next week, when 21 states and U.S. territories will hold primaries.

MARTIN: So, Rick, before we let you go, you've been covering presidential elections in Michigan for some decades now. From your experience, what do the candidates who ultimately become their party's nominee need to consider if they want to win?

PLUTA: Well, to keep your coalition engaged and eager, don't alienate centrist, suburban likely voters with extreme positions and get some traction with sympathetic but less likely voters to get out for you. That's it.

MARTIN: That's it. That is Rick Pluta with Michigan Public Radio Network. Rick, thank you.

PLUTA: Oh, thank you. 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.

Rick Pluta
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.