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AP Decision Notes: What to expect in Michigan’s presidential primary

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump look to repeat their past Michigan primary victories on Tuesday, when they each face opponents who haven’t yet won a contest this year but also show no indication of dropping out.

Biden is fending off a challenge from Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, who has done little so far to slow the president’s path to renomination, while Trump faces another head-to-head match-up with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. While Biden and Trump are strong favorites to win in Michigan, state and party rules create complications on both sides.

For Biden, a more significant factor on Tuesday than Phillips may be an effort by some Arab Americans and progressive activists to urge primary voters to cast their ballots for “uncommitted” in protest of Biden’s stalwart support of Israel over the war in Gaza.

The effort has the backing of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, former Rep. Andy Levin and local leaders from throughout southeastern Michigan, including Dearborn, where nearly 55% of residents are of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry, according to Census figures.

On the Republican side, the primary is just the first step in a two-part process to win delegates. Less than a third of the state’s 55 Republican delegates will be up for grabs on Tuesday. The remainder will be won at 13 congressional district meetings that will be held March 2. Complicating that process is an ongoing dispute within the Michigan Republican Party in which the current and former state party chairs are planning rival events to allocate delegates on the same day. Trump has backed the faction led by former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who was recently recognized by the Republican National Committee as the new chairman.

Four years ago, the Michigan primary was held on what would become the last primary date before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and a national public health emergency. In that contest, Biden defeated Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont by 17 points, dealing his sole remaining rival for the nomination a major blow. Sanders dropped out of the race a month later. Trump, running as the incumbent, received 94% of the vote. In 2016, he won a four-way contest by 12 points against a much more competitive field.

Here’s a look at what to expect in Michigan:

PRIMARY DAY AND DISTRICT CONVENTION DAY

The Michigan presidential primary will be held on Tuesday. Polls close statewide at 8 p.m. local time. Most of the state closes at 8 p.m. ET, but four counties in the Upper Peninsula are in the Central time zone and close at 8 p.m. CT, which is 9 p.m. ET.

The Michigan Republican Party will also hold congressional district conventions on March 2 to award additional delegates to the presidential candidates.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

The Associated Press will provide coverage for both the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. They are the only statewide contests on the ballot. The candidates on the Democratic ballot are Biden, Phillips and former candidate Marianne Williamson. The Republican ballot includes Haley, Trump, Texas businessman and pastor Ryan Binkley, as well as former candidates Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Asa Hutchinson and Vivek Ramaswamy. Voters in either primary may cast their ballot for “uncommitted.”

The AP will also allocate GOP delegates based on the Republican congressional district conventions on March 2. The only result reported for these events will be the number of national convention delegates each presidential candidate has won.

WHO GETS TO VOTE

Any registered voter in Michigan may participate in either primary. Michigan does not register voters by party. Voters will be asked to indicate in writing which party’s primary they wish to participate in, and the choice is recorded.

For the March 2 GOP district conventions, only about 2,000 precinct delegates elected in the August 2022 state primary may participate. Voting by the general public is not permitted at this event.

DELEGATE ALLOCATION RULES

Michigan’s 117 pledged Democratic delegates are allocated according to the national party’s standard rules. Twenty-five at-large delegates are allocated in proportion to the statewide vote, as are 15 PLEO delegates, or “party leaders and elected officials.” The state’s 13 congressional districts have a combined 77 delegates at stake, which are allocated in proportion to the vote results in each district. Candidates must receive at least 15% of the statewide vote to qualify for any statewide delegates, and 15% of the vote in a congressional district to qualify for delegates in that district.

The 16 Republican statewide at-large delegates will be allocated in proportion to the primary results, with candidates needing to receive at least 12.5% of the vote to qualify for any delegates. The remaining 39 delegates will be allocated at 13 congressional district conventions on March 2. The candidate who receives the most votes at a congressional district convention will win two of each district’s three national delegates, with the second-place finisher receiving one delegate. If a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in a congressional district convention, that candidate will receive all three of the district’s national delegates.

DECISION NOTES

Both Biden and Trump head into the Michigan primary as the overwhelming favorites. Biden won every county in 2020 against Sanders, who had won the 2016 Michigan primary. He is likely to repeat that feat this year against an opponent with far less support and star power than the Vermont senator, having won every contest so far by commanding margins — even in New Hampshire, where he was not on the ballot and won as a write-in candidate. While backers of the “uncommitted” campaign admit they stand little chance of winning the primary outright – Levin said in a recent television interview he thinks second place would be a good showing – “uncommitted” would qualify for delegates if it reaches the 15% vote threshold. If so, the likeliest place would be in Tlaib’s 12th congressional district, home of Dearborn.

On the Republican side, if Haley’s pattern of support from Iowa and New Hampshire continues, her best opportunities in the state will be in Democratic strongholds like Wayne County, home of Detroit; Genesee County, home of Flint; and Washtenaw County, home of Ann Arbor. Trump narrowly lost Washtenaw to former Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2016 but won Wayne and Genesee in convincing fashion. Haley’s relative strength in Democratic-leaning areas has not brought her close to Trump’s level of support in contests held so far. Her performance in South Carolina’s Republican primary held Saturday is likely to be a make-or-break moment for her campaign’s viability moving forward.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

Although polls in most of the state close at 8 p.m. ET, AP will not call a winner before the last polls have closed at 9 p.m. ET.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE

There were about 8.1 million voters registered in Michigan as of April 2023, the last update available. Turnout for the 2020 presidential primaries was 21% of registered voters in the Democratic primary and 9% in the Republican primary. In the 2016 primaries, turnout was 16% of registered voters in the Democratic race and 18% in the Republican race.

In the 2022 state midterm primaries, about 1.1 million voters cast their ballots before Election Day, or about 55% of the total vote. That was up from the approximately 804,000 votes – about 35% of all votes – cast before Election Day in the 2020 presidential primaries.

As of Thursday, more than 874,000 votes had already been cast in the 2024 presidential primaries.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE-COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

In the 2020 presidential primary, the AP first reported results at 8:08 p.m. ET, or eight minutes after the first polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 4 a.m. ET with about 99% of total votes counted. It was roughly the same time frame for the 2022 Republican primary for governor.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Tuesday, there will be 252 days until the November general election.

Robert Yoon, The Associated Press




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