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Israel-Palestine protests grow louder as Biden, Harris celebrate New Hampshire victory

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The Biden-Harris campaign is taking a bit of a victory lap after President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris pulled off a symbolic win in the New Hampshire primary election. 

Despite not being on the ballot due to a Democratic primary dispute over the president’s plan to prioritize Black voters in South Carolina this election cycle, Biden and Harris bested Democratic challengers U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and Marianne Williamson in the primary thanks to a grassroots write-in campaign. 

The bright spot for team Biden-Harris also comes as the outcry against the White House’s support of Israel in its war in Gaza grows louder on the campaign trail.

While New Hampshire voters cast their ballots on Tuesday, Biden and Harris held their first joint campaign rally in Virginia to condemn the wave of Republican-led abortion bans after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. 

But as the president began his remarks, he was interrupted at least 10 times by pro-Palestine protesters who chanted, “Stop funding genocide” and “Genocide Joe has got to go.” 

Criticisms of the Biden-Harris administration’s support of Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza are particularly coming from Arab Americans, Black Americans, and young Americans – all key voting blocs of Biden’s 2020 victory coalition. A New York Times/Siena College poll in December found that a majority of Black, young, and Democratic voters sympathize more with Palestinians than Israel in the months-long conflict that has led to the deaths of more than 25,000 Palestinians. 

“It’s clearly an issue for the president. It’s going to be an issue for the White House because of the unique nature of this conflict,” said Markus Batchelor, national political director at People For the American Way. 

Lots Igwebuika, 32, joins protesters at a rally on Jan. 13, 2024, at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., to support a ceasefire in Gaza in the war with Israel. (Photo by Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Batchelor told theGrio that while he doesn’t believe foreign affairs will significantly impact the 2024 presidential election, it could chip away at Biden’s base of voters he will need in crucial battleground states.

“When you think about the population of Michigan, for instance, being 3% Arab American. What does that do for the Democratic base when trying to gain ground [there]?” he asked rhetorically.

“The administration has signaled that they’re getting closer in terms of holding Israel more accountable, but they still have a little bit more work to do with the base.”

Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, told theGrio that he doesn’t believe the White House is “underestimating how important their handling of the situation in Gaza is to their coalition.”

During an election year, he said it’s important that the Biden-Harris campaign draw a clear contrast between a Biden-Harris approach to the conflict in the Middle East and that of a potential second Trump administration. 

“You can hold Joe Biden accountable, and you can persuade Joe Biden. You can’t persuade Donald Trump,” Payne argued. “Donald Trump is talking about banning groups of refugees. He’s pouring gasoline on a tense situation.”

On a Biden-Harris campaign press call reacting to Tuesday’s New Hampshire win, the very first question posed to staff was about the Israel-Hamas war and the protest at the president’s rally in Virginia. 

Biden-Harris campaign communications director Michael Tyler said the president respected “Americans’ fundamental First Amendment rights to peacefully protest.” He immediately contrasted that with Trump and Republicans, who he said are using global conflicts to “fan the flames” and “further divide people.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks alongside supporters, campaign staff, and family members during his primary night rally at the Sheraton on Jan. 23, 2024, in Nashua, New Hampshire. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“Biden is approaching the situation in the Middle East not through the lens of politics, but as the commander in chief of this country who is prioritizing American national security and global security,” argued the Biden campaign official. Leaning into concerns about Biden being too old for reelection, he said, “(President Biden’s) doing so with the wisdom, the judgment, and the experience that comes with his age.”

Tyler, who said Biden will continue to engage with voters on the ground, added, “That’s why they’ll reelect him again.”

Beyond addressing the war in Gaza and making a contrast to Trump, Democratic strategists said Biden and Harris must continue to talk about the issues voters care about most, including abortion rights, which has been a winning issue in the past few election cycles, and the economy. They said the campaign must specifically tailor those messages to Black voters.

“Vice President Harris is a particularly strong surrogate for [talking about abortion.]… just the historic barrier-breaking vice president that she is but also who she has credibility as a Black woman,” said Payne. “She is a particularly strong messenger.”

During the kickoff of her “Reproductive Freedoms” tour on Monday, Harris delivered a fiery speech accusing Republicans of “trying to pass a national abortion ban” and slammed Trump for hand-picking “three Supreme Court Justices because he intended for them to overturn Roe.” 

“It is a decision he brags about,” said the vice president, who urged voters to elect more Democrats in Congress in November so that they could pass a law that would federally legalize abortion rights.

Batchelor said as polling shows Black voters are less enthusiastic about a Biden-Harris reelection, it is important that the president and vice president continue explaining to Black communities what the administration has been doing and how it is “paying off” and “will pay off in the short future.”

“There are trillions of dollars in government money hitting the streets that will expand opportunity, especially in Black and brown communities,” he said. 

Batchelor said messaging could be especially useful in courting Black men “who might have voted for Trump” based on a “sheer economic message.”

President Joe Biden takes selfies with people in the crowd in South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

“It’s important for the Biden campaign to also shift that narrative to show that Trump was not good for working people, for poor people, for Black people economically,” he added. “Biden is getting things done; expanding Black small business ownership to historic levels [and] raising wages.”

Trump also emerged victorious in New Hampshire Tuesday, besting Nikki Haley in double digits. Strategists believe the former president will, without question, clear the path to claiming the Republican Party nomination. 

Despite her loss, Haley refused to drop out of the race and blasted Trump as a loser whose party leadership delivered consecutive losses for Republicans since 2018. 

“This is going be the third straight general election that Republicans have to line up behind Trump. And that’s not even counting the midterm races in between, where he hasn’t been successful,” said Payne. “His most successful cycle to date is the first time he ran as a Republican in 2016 when he lost by 3 million popular votes…that’s his ceiling.”

Batchelor similarly said Trump is “toxic for everybody in his party” and that while in office, it became “increasingly harder for him to govern.” 

“That’s the conversation we’ll have to go into the fall,” he said. 

Suggesting Haley will change her tune once she drops out of the race, as many strategists predict, Batchelor added, “I appreciate Nikki Haley saying that. I’m sure she’ll be saying something very differently after Super Tuesday.” 

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Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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