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'Message has been received': Biden's campaign reacts to 'uncommitted' votes

Joe Biden answers questions while leaving the White House on January 30.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
Joe Biden answers questions while leaving the White House on January 30.

In Michigan, a push to encourage voters to send President Biden a message about his refusal to call for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza may have worked.

The group Listen to Michigan did not ask their followers to stay home from Tuesday's Democratic primary. Instead, they asked them to vote for "uncommitted."

Statewide, just over 13% of voters did, taking a little of the shine off of President Biden's victory.

All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly spoke to Mitch Landrieu — the national co-chair of the Biden campaign and former mayor of New Orleans — about the Michigan results, the campaign's direction going forward, and how it plans to connect with younger, Arab American and Muslim voters.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

Mary Louise Kelly: I want to say congratulations on winning the primary. And I want to ask how worried are you about this many people voting uncommitted?

Mitch Landrieu: Well, first of all, the president got 80% last night, on top of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. So the president continues to really hit it out of the park – really, really, really strong night. There's no doubt that there were some folks in Michigan that wanted to send the president a message. He's received that message many, many times. He actually sent a team of high ranking officials out to Michigan to talk to folks about the very difficult issue that the president and the United States is confronting in the war between Israel and Gaza. So that message has been received. The president actually thinks that people ought to voice their opinion, but last night he got 80% of the vote.


Kelly: But the 13% who voted "uncommitted" translates to more than 100,000 people. It's not a small number in a swing state that may well be tight in November.

Landrieu: Well, let me say this: there is no small number in an election that's going to be razor thin close. So every vote matters, and the president understands that and knows that, and will continue to work on that and listen to what folks' concerns are. ... Every issue is complicated, and this is one of them that needs to be worked through.

Kelly: To the issue being raised by the Listen To Michigan people — this is a group led by predominantly younger, Arab American and Muslim organizers — how are you going to convince them and people who are very upset about the president's handling of the war in Gaza, how are you going to convince them to back him?

Landrieu: We're going to continue to talk to them. We're going to continue to listen to what it is that they have to say. When you're the commander in chief and when, in fact, you are representing the United States interests, there are no issues that are easy. And this is obviously a very painful issue for them and for lots of other folks in the United States of America. We're going to continue to talk to them and then ask them to think about the choices and what the consequences are about electing somebody who wants to have a Muslim ban, electing somebody who is going to be much, much worse than the difficult circumstances that we have right now. The president is going to reach out. We're going to continue to listen. And he's going to continue to work with them as we find an answer to this very difficult problem.

A Democratic voter uncommitted to President Joe Biden rallies outside of a polling location at Maples Elementary School on February 27.
Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images
Getty Images
A Democratic voter uncommitted to President Joe Biden rallies outside of a polling location at Maples Elementary School on February 27.

Kelly: And what about younger voters? The Associated Press's results show that the uncommitted vote in the county where the University of Michigan sits was higher than statewide. So more voters who may skew younger voting uncommitted. How are you going to engage those voters, people in their twenties and thirties?

Landrieu: There's no question about it. But listen, there are a lot of issues that affect young voters, not just this one. When you start talking about climate change, when you talk about the economy, when you talk about health care issues, when you talk about the right to control your own body, to marry who you want, all of these issues will come into play. And remember, the question in November will be Trump versus Biden. And, of course, when everybody's already seen what Donald Trump has done, he is going to govern in chaos.

Mitch Landrieu and Joe Biden in January 2022.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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Mitch Landrieu and Joe Biden in January 2022.

Kelly: Since you are co-chair of the Biden campaign, let me put to you directly the question that many voters tell us is on their mind, which is the president's age. President Biden had his annual physical today [Wednesday]. It showed very little change from last year. I know you're going to tell me the concerns about his age are overblown, that he's sharp, that you're with him all the time, that he's up to the job. My question is, what are voters missing that that is not the image that comes across?

Landrieu: Well, wait a minute. If you know that that's what I'm going to say to you, and you know that is true, why do we gloss over it?

Kelly: I'm not glossing over it, I'm asking why do voters not get what you're telling them.

Landrieu: But let's answer the direct question first. How fit is Joe Biden to be president of the United States? Very fit. His physical today shows that he's as strong as an ox. The guy who's got a real challenge, who eats a lot more from McDonald's than anybody else, is Donald Trump.

And by the way, you know, the numerical age is not nearly as important as the age of your ideas. Donald Trump's ideas are going to take us back 50 years to a time that they thought was better than today but never was.

Kelly: But my question again is: why does that not come across to voters?

Landrieu: Well, first of all, we're just starting the campaign. Now think about this: Joe Biden, in the first three years of his administration, created 15 million jobs. So I don't know what's more important, 81 [Biden's age] or 15 million?

Here's another number for you: 91. That's the number of criminal complaints that Donald Trump has against him. Joe Biden has zero. When you think about the numbers that matter to people's lives, that impact the way they live, Joe Biden is going to be the choice for most Americans.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Kathryn Fox