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Wisconsin presents latest test for Biden and progressives over Gaza war

Killing of aid workers adds bloody backdrop to Wisconsin ‘uninstructed’ vote

John Bowden
Washington DC
Wednesday 03 April 2024 04:35 BST
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Blinken orders 'swift, thorough and impartial investigation' into Gaza aid convoy strike

As another slew of states held primary elections on Tuesday, President Joe Biden faced his latest scorecard from Democratic voters.

With both parties having concluded the “competitive” portions of the primary season and Mr Biden having wrapped up his party’s nomination the same as his opponent, Donald Trump, attention has shifted to down-ballot races and a growing protest vote movement centred around progressive resistance to the president’s handling of the war in Gaza.

Tonight, the battleground shifted to Wisconsin, a bastion of progressive organising in the Midwest. It’s the latest arena where supporters of calls for a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip are urging Democratic voters to turn out and vote “uninstructed” in their party’s primary — an essentially ceremonial protest vote that will still send a message to the Biden campaign, one way or the other, regarding his support from key demographics.

As polls closes across the state, it was clear that tens of thousands of voters had selected the “uninstructed” option; it was chugging along with just fewer than 10 per cent of the vote. There was no sign of a massive rebellion against Joe Biden, but the makings of a sustained feeling of disatisfaction were there.

Though there was no organisation behind it, Mr Trump faced his own protest vote on Tuesday as well. More than 20,000 Republican voters turned out to cast ballots for Nikki Haley, the final Republican to stand against the former president before he clinched the GOP nomination in early March. It was a clear message that a sizable portion of the former president’s own party remains strongly disatisfied with their party’s nominee, likely stemming from his antics in 2020 which led to the attack on the Capitol on January 6.

Wisconsin’s vote total tonight gained new importance over the past 48 hours with the killing of seven aid workers with celebrity chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen humanitarian group in Gaza; the aid convoy was not in a combat zone but was nevertheless hit by successive Israeli strikes, according to the group, after their location had been shared with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). The slain aid workers included an American citizen. Israeli officials released a statement on Tuesday calling the strike an “accident”.

The state is one of several Mr Biden won back from Republicans in 2020 after Donald Trump’s victory there four years before. Efforts to build support for the “uninstructed” vote, which have grown to include 20 locally-elected Democratic officials, are focused in the urban areas of Milwaukee and Madison crucial to Mr Biden’s victory against the former president.

A spokesperson for Mr Biden’s National Security Council (NSC) called for an investigation into the killing of the aid workers in a statement late Monday. Mr Biden himself issued a lengthier statement on Tuesday after speaking to Chef José Andrés.

In the state, voters also decided the fate of a GOP-led effort to satisfy the concerns of election deniers, a common belief within the Trump-loyalist faction that controls the Republican Party. One proposed amendment to the state constitution on the ballot would ban private groups and individuals from contributing money and other resources to fund election processes; another would add language to the constitution clarifying that “only election officials designated by law may perform tasks in the conduct of primaries, elections, and referendums”. Both passed.

Democrats opposed both amendments, though in word only; their opposition to both largely hinges on the fact that the two proposed ballot measures both stem from Donald Trump’s continued conspiracies and nonsense-peddling regarding the 2020 election. That year, a nonprofit with financial ties to tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg contributed money to assist some local municipalities with elections administration around the state of Wisconsin, a prospect that was beset by unprecedented challenges thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Republicans have allowed their supporters to stoke baseless conspiracy theories around those contributions being linked to Mr Trump’s downfall in the state.

They also argue that language aimed at clarifying the role and qualifications of an elections worker is purposefully vague and is aimed at chasing away possible volunteers for the job. But Democrats viewed neither of Tuesday’s referendum as major threats or even serious issues, and did not expend political capital to oppose them.

The left has displayed a strong track record of winning other ballot measures in recent months, notably and especially including constitutional questions surrounding the issue of reproductive rights and abortion. Democrats’ victories have also extended to issues surrounding voting rights, including the passage of Proposal 2 in Michigan in 2022. Tuesday will answer the question of whether the left’s ground game remains strong ahead of what is likely to be a massively important election season this fall, both at the top and down the ballot.

For Mr Trump, the next real challenge is not Tuesday, but Saturday: the former president is set to hold a major fundraising gala at his Mar-a-Lago estate and resort in Florida, where he is hoping to compete with or surpass the impressive $26m haul which Mr Biden walked away with following a star-studded event in New York with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

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