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A preview of the Michigan's presidential primary

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

From one primary to another, South Carolina wrapped up its primary last night with a decisive win for former President Donald Trump. But his remaining opponent, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, is not letting defeat get her down, even if it came in her home state. Now it's on to Michigan, where the campaigns have just a few days to regroup, and Democrats have their say as well. Joining me now is NPR's Sarah McCammon, who just traveled back from South Carolina, as well as Elena Moore, who's in Detroit. Hey to both of you.

ELENA MOORE, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi there.

DETROW: So Sarah, I'm going to start with you. As widely predicted, Trump won South Carolina by a pretty wide margin. Let's talk about what happened.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. No one expected Nikki Haley to win, but the question was really how badly she would lose. Of course, she is the former governor of South Carolina. She'd spent a lot of money and time campaigning in her home state. If anybody could take on Trump in South Carolina, you'd think it would be Nikki Haley. But last night, everyone got the answer that most people had been anticipating. Trump gave a victory speech in Columbia, where he said that the Republican Party is unified.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: Never been like this.

DETROW: I mean, Sarah, even if it was expected, losing her home state in that way is a setback. What is Haley saying about the results?

MCCAMMON: Well, Scott, she doesn't think the party is as unified behind Trump as he says it is. Her campaign just announced they've raised $1 million since yesterday's primary from small donor supporters, a sign that there's still support for her to keep going, they say. And speaking to supporters last night in Charleston, Haley pointed to the results in her home state and said that while she was not able to win, she did win over a notable percentage of voters, around 40%. And she said those numbers indicate that there's frustration among voters about the options they're being given.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: I couldn't be more worried about America. It seems like our country is falling apart. But here's the thing - America will come apart if we make the wrong choices.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: That's right.

(CHEERING)

MCCAMMON: Haley says voters deserve a choice. But so far, Scott, most Republican voters are choosing Trump.

DETROW: Yeah. Elena, shifting to you, the next primary is just two days away in Michigan. What's going on there?

MOORE: Well, you know, Michigan may be a really important swing state in the general election, but right now it doesn't seem like there's a lot of candidate buzz. Nikki Haley has two rallies planned in the state, but, of course, you know, former President Trump is dominating in average state polling here. And neither Trump or Biden have any public appearances announced in Michigan ahead of Tuesday, which is kind of notable given that this is a state that was key to Trump's victory in 2016 and Biden's in 2020.

DETROW: Right - and by a pretty small margin each time. But speaking of Biden, he is, as you said, on the ballot. He is expected to win easily, but he's facing opposition there. And there are real questions about how broad it may end up being. Explain what's going on.

MOORE: Right. So over the past month, there's been a growing write-in campaign called Listen to Michigan. It was started largely by younger Arab and Muslim American organizers in Dearborn who oppose Biden's handling of Israel's war in Gaza. And the goal is really to get folks to write in uncommitted on the ballot as a form of a protest vote. You know, organizers tell me this campaign was kind of - you know, it's grown beyond just the Arab and Muslim communities here in Southeast Michigan.

And it's really about changing Biden's policy, not necessarily, you know, swearing him off in November. What they want is Biden to call for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza and halt aid to Israel. And so, you know, I talked with 26-year-old Bianca Garcia about this. She's a Jewish Latino student at Wayne State University, and she told me she plans to vote uncommitted on Tuesday because of Biden's handling on this issue.

BIANCA GARCIA: I'm not, like, rah-rah excited to vote for Biden, but I'm hoping that this uncommitted campaign can send a message to him that - where I feel confident in voting for him in the November election.

MOORE: You know, and she told me that voting for Biden, you know, which she did in 2020, to be clear, was never an easy decision. But when she looks at Trump and his policies, she didn't really have much of a choice.

DETROW: Yeah. So Sarah, you spent a lot of time in South Carolina doing the best thing that we can do to understand elections, and that's talk to actual voters. What can the conversations that you had tell us about the types of people voting for Trump versus voting for Haley?

MCCAMMON: So the Haley voters I met are - they're concerned about the direction of the country. There were many Republicans, of course, also some independents and at least one Democrat I met who decided to vote for Haley because South Carolina has that open primary system. But most Haley voters are Republican or at least Republican leaning. They tend to say they disagree with President Biden on policy, see him as weak, and they want a Republican. But they don't want Donald Trump. I met Betty Breedlove at a Haley rally outside of Charleston on Friday night.

BETTY BREEDLOVE: Trump is just not my choice. I think he's too divisive. He's almost a cult leader, and that bothers me.

MCCAMMON: On the other hand, she thinks Haley can bring the country together, and she wants someone younger to lead the country. But, you know, Scott, I asked Breedlove if it's Trump or Biden in the general election, what she would do. She hesitated, and then she said Trump sounds like a cult leader to her, but she would probably vote for him...

DETROW: Interesting.

MCCAMMON: ...Even though it would hurt.

DETROW: Interesting. All right. So again, Tuesday is one of these days where you both have the Democratic and Republican primary at the same time - hasn't always been the case. So let's flip back to Democrats here. Elena, with the general distrust of Biden among young progressives in Michigan, what effect might that have on the results?

MOORE: Well, you know, Scott, Arab American and Muslim American voters were key to Biden's win in Michigan in 2020, and so were young voters, for that matter. But, you know, for some Michiganders in the state now, they tell me they're more committed to voting uncommitted than for Biden. You know, for others, there's also just this general disappointment in Biden as the 2024 choice. You know, I talked with 24-year-old Ph.D. student Keion Harris at the University of Michigan about this. He's actually from Detroit and says that he voted for Biden in 2020 also. But in this primary, you know, he also wrote in uncommitted, so I asked him how he was feeling.

KEION HARRIS: More hopeless than last time, I'll say. It reminds me of 2016 - so the rise of Trump. It doesn't feel too good with war and poverty and all things going on.

MCCAMMON: And Scott, I've been talking with young folks on campuses and around Ann Arbor, Detroit and Dearborn for the past few days. And, you know, not everybody knows about this uncommitted push. Some don't even know about the primary. But one thing that they mostly all had in common - they are not enthusiastic about their 2024 options.

DETROW: And Sarah, we got about 15 seconds. What do we need to know about Michigan and Republicans? Is it a big deal or are they looking ahead to Super Tuesday?

MCCAMMON: Really for Super Tuesday, the big question is how long Haley stays in the race, how long she drags it out for Trump. He wants to wrap this up, but she's not ready to.

DETROW: All right. That's Sarah McCammon as well as Elena Moore. Thanks to you both.

MOORE: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: 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.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Elena Moore
Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.
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