Fear and loathing in a Super Tuesday state: Democrats angry at Biden back him anyway to stop Trump

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Aishah Al-Sehaim, right, who is a Democrat and Arab American in Minnesota's Democratic-leaning 3rd Congressional District works on her computer on Feb. 27, 2024, in Hopkins, Minn. The 36-year-old engineer is upset by President Joe Biden's approach to the war in Gaza but is voting for him in an effort to stop former President Donald Trump. "It's not even about hope to affect change in the coming years, but simply that things don't get more screwed up nationally and internationally." (AP Photo/Thomas Beaumont)

HOPKINS, Minn. – Aishah Al-Sehaim laments the 30,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza, a grim statistic from a war with Israel that she wishes President Joe Biden would try harder to stop.

But the 38-year-old clinical data scientist, an Arab American from the Democratic-heavy suburb of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, is voting for the Democrat on Tuesday anyway because her top priority is stopping Republican Donald Trump.

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“It’s not even about hope to affect change in the coming years, but simply that things don’t get more screwed up nationally and internationally,” she said.

Biden's campaign isn't likely to trumpet endorsements such as Al-Sehaim's. But they give credence to the reelection effort's strategy of promoting Biden administration programs but also turning out disaffected Democrats by invoking their fears of Trump.

For many reluctant Biden voters in suburban Minneapolis and around the country, any potential value of a protest vote in a primary or general election is outweighed by starkly practical considerations about a possible second Trump presidency.

Biden is still expected to sweep Democratic primaries in Minnesota and 15 other states on Super Tuesday and will likely secure his party's nomination in the coming weeks.

While campaign officials note the president’s accomplishments on liberal priorities such as climate change, they are all too aware of concerns about his age and a lack of enthusiasm not just for Biden but about politics at large. Biden’s strongest supporters acknowledge his campaign does not inspire voters the same way that Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan once did.

“I’m not sure, because of the poison that’s been injected into the system over the last 10 years, if anybody gets that morning-in-America enthusiasm again,” said Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, referring to Reagan’s famous reelection campaign television ad. “It doesn’t surprise me that much that what you’re finding is people who say they’re going to support him, but it’s not an Obama-type new thing.”

Biden aides argue there is more enthusiasm for the president than the interviews suggest. They point to the 600,000 voters who voted in Michigan's primary this past week, more than three times the turnout for Obama in 2012.

One of Biden's token primary challengers is Rep. Dean Phillips, a three-term congressman representing this very tract of Minneapolis suburbs. Yet among nearly two dozen interviews conducted over three days with Democratic voters in his district, Phillips got barely a mention.

Beating Trump was the most common theme in interviews with professionals, students and cross section of age, gender and racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“It frightens me to think about Trump being in office again,” said Audra Robinson.

The 52-year-old marketing executive from Brooklyn Park says she is specifically troubled by Trump’s praise for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right-wing nationalist Trump routinely lauds while campaigning, “and whatever his affinity for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is.”

Orban is scheduled to meet privately with Trump at the former president’s residence in Florida this coming week, a development that punctuated Robinson’s worry about Trump's "alignment with dictators and some scary people on this earth.”

“So for me, it’s voting so that Trump cannot be in office again,” Robinson said. “And that means getting behind the party. So, I guess that’s Biden.”

James Calderaro of Hopkins knew Phillips was a candidate but dismissed Phillips as “a distraction."

Calderaro, a 71-year-old retired fashion photographer, was more upbeat about Biden than were many of those interviewed, crediting him with improvements in the economy. But even Calderaro, like many, raised without prompting Biden’s age as a concern. Biden is 81; Trump is 77.

“I understand the the age-related stuff. I don’t necessarily like Biden’s age,” Calderaro said. “But what’s the option? Trump? Really? That guy’s an absolute thug. He’s a danger to our way of life.”

Minnesota has been a progressive bastion, not carried by a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972, though Trump came within 1.5 percentage points of winning in 2016.

Observers will watch Tuesday for how many Democrats choose “uncommitted” in Minnesota after a protest effort in Michigan's primary drew more than 100,000 votes. Minnesota has a significant Somali American population that is predominantly Muslim and may similarly protest the Israel-Hamas war, which Israel launched after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack in which militants killed more than 1,200 people and kidnapped about 250 others.

In an interview at the governor's residence in St. Paul, Walz motioned to the street outside and noted that there were often anti-war protesters there.

“I’m glad to hear people are talking about this,” he said. “This isn’t an unhealthy thing. We like to air these out."

Abdifatah Abdi, one of the more than 80,000 Somali immigrants in Minnesota, said he may not vote for Biden out of opposition to what Abdi considers the president's weak opposition to killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

“A majority of us have voted for Biden before, but this time I don’t think we should vote for him,” said Abdi.

The 26-year-old college student, who is Muslim, is weighing supporting Trump instead of Biden, despite Trump’s 2017 ban on immigration from some Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia, and the suggestion that Trump would reprise it if elected again.

“Trump may be for a ban. But what is worse, a ban or the killing?” Abdi said.

Tacy Nielson described her support for Biden as “grudging.”

“I’m concerned about his mental capacity,” the 36-year-old yoga instructor from Eden Prairie said. “And I’m tired of choosing between the lesser evil of two old white guys. ”But Biden is the lesser of those two evils.”

Dan Schultz of Minnetonka joined the refrain.

“Part of being president is to make a powerful statement and to rally the country. There’s concern he can’t do that. It’s a fair concern and I share it,” Schultz said. “But I’m as anti-Trump as you can be. So what choice do I have?”

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