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Push for Washington state Democrats to vote ‘uncommitted’ instead of for Biden in March 12 primary picks up steam

By Jim Brunner, The Seattle Times
Published: March 1, 2024, 6:00am

SEATTLE — A campaign urging Democrats to vote “uncommitted” in Washington’s March 12 presidential primary is rapidly gaining momentum amid protests over President Joe Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war and worries about his ability to defeat Donald Trump this fall.

The uncommitted option was endorsed Wednesday night by UFCW 3000, the state’s largest labor union, which represents more than 50,000 grocery workers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

The Stranger, Seattle’s progressive alternative newspaper, also backed the uncommitted vote in an editorial this week calling it a way to “push” Biden to take a harder line on ending the ongoing devastation in Gaza.

Other supporters of the movement are planning a news conference on Monday to further promote the uncommitted option, said Rami Al-Kabra, a Bothell City Council member who has been working on the rapidly developing campaign.

The goal is to show dissatisfaction with Biden by electing delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer who are not pledged to Biden or any of his longshot rivals.

The push here has accelerated following Michigan’s Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday, in which more than 100,000 voters — about 13% — picked the uncommitted option. Biden still easily won the state with more than 81% of the vote.

UFCW 3000’s 47-member executive board unanimously endorsed the “uncommitted” vote at an emergency meeting conducted via Zoom, Joe Mizrahi, UFCW 3000’s secretary-treasurer, said in an interview.

“We stand in solidarity with our partners in Michigan who sent a clear message in their primary that Biden must do more to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” the union said in a statement.

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The union vote also reflected worries about Biden’s electability and low-energy bid for reelection thus far, Mizrahi said, pointing to the president doing few public campaign events and fewer news conferences and media interviews than previous presidents.

“Maybe there is a secret reserve of energy,” said Mizrahi, but the union and public hasn’t yet seen it. He said the message of the UFCW vote was “either step aside or start running a hard campaign that will beat Trump.”

If Biden is the Democrats’ nominee, as seems all but certain at the moment, UFCW 3000 would support him over Trump in November.

“We’re going to work our butts off to make sure he’s reelected if he’s the nominee,” Mizrahi said.

Al-Kabra, the Bothell council member and Palestinian American, said he and other advocates for an uncommitted vote have sought, mostly fruitlessly, to get Biden and other Democratic elected officials to take a stronger stance toward ending the ongoing deaths and suffering in Gaza.

“Finally, we realized the most powerful tool we have in our grasp is the power to vote,” he said.

“For the past five months the president has continued to support what the ICJ [International Court of Justice] is now saying is the possibility of genocide occurring on the people of Gaza, Palestine,” said Al-Kabra, who joined other protesters in a recent demonstration at the state Capitol to call for an immediate cease-fire.

He said he knows people who have lost tens of family members in the war.

More than 30,000 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched military strikes in response to the Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel by Hamas, which killed more than 1,200 people and took another 240 hostage, The New York Times reported Thursday.

If he does not heed the message of those considering an uncommitted vote, Biden risks alienating an important bloc in the Democratic coalition, said Faheem Khan, of Redmond, general secretary of the American Muslim Advancement Council, which has paid for a website promoting the campaign.

“Ninety percent of our volunteers are the same people who volunteered and campaigned and donated money and countless hours to the Biden campaign,” said Khan. Absent a shift, “none of them are going to do any of that” in 2024, he said.

In its editorial this week, writers for The Stranger ripped Biden for his unflinching Israel support, his “hard right” turn on immigration and failing to fully cancel all student debt.

Still, they wrote, “even we screaming socialists must admit that Biden has chalked up some impressive wins while working with a functionally divided government.”

While an uncommitted vote might be a way to “push” Biden in the primary, the editorial concluded, “Biden is the answer in the general election because Trump would be worse in every conceivable way.”

Ballots for Washington’s March 12 primary have been mailed out. To participate, voters have to sign a declaration on the ballot envelope stating a Republican or Democratic Party affiliation. Voters can then vote in either the Democratic or the Republican primary — but not both.

For Democrats, Biden appears on the ballot along with two longshot rivals, Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota, and self-help author Marianne Williamson, who suspended her campaign and then “unsuspended” it this week. Democrats can also select the “uncommitted” option on the ballot.

Washington’s primary results will allocate 92 delegates to the August convention. Any candidate receiving at least 15% of the vote (including the uncommitted option) will receive a proportional number of delegates, a state Democratic Party spokesperson said.

In a statement Thursday, Shasti Conrad, the state Democratic Party chair, did not directly wade into the uncommitted-versus-Biden debate, but urged all Democrats to vote to continue the “tremendous progress” the party has made on the economy, environment and protecting civil rights.

The state Democratic Party’s 174-member central committee voted in January to call for an immediate cease-fire.

For Republicans on March 12, former President Donald Trump is on the ballot along with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, his last remaining GOP rival. Three other candidates who have dropped out of the race are also still listed: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The GOP ballot does not offer an “uncommitted” option.