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Biden campaign co-chair reacts to 'uncommitted' votes in Michigan

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Michigan, a push to encourage voters to send President Biden a message about his refusal to call for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza, it may have worked. The group Listen to Michigan did not ask their followers to stay home from yesterday's Democratic primary. Instead, it asked them to vote for, quote, "uncommitted." Well, statewide, just over 13% of voters did, taking a little of the shine off of President Biden's victory. To discuss the Michigan results and the campaign's direction going forward, we're going to bring in Mitch Landrieu, national co-chair of the Biden campaign, former mayor of New Orleans. Mayor Landrieu, welcome.

MITCH LANDRIEU: Hey, how are you?

KELLY: Hey, I'm well. Thank you. I want to say, congratulations on winning the primary.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

KELLY: And I want to ask, how worried are you about this many people voting uncommitted?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, the president got 80% last night on top of 96%, 90% in New Hampshire - and then, of course, in South Carolina, and then of course, in Nevada. So the president continues to really hit it out of the park, a really, really, really strong night. There's no doubt that there was some folks in Michigan that wanted to send the president a message. He's received that message many, many times. He actually sent a team of high-ranking officials out to, of course, Michigan to talk to folks about the very difficult issue that the president and the United States is confronting in the war between Israel and Gaza. So that message has been received. The president actually thinks that people ought to voice their opinion. But last night, he got 80% of the vote...

KELLY: Yeah, but just to be clear, the...

LANDRIEU: ...Thirteen percent of the vote voiced their opinion...

KELLY: Forgive me, but the 13% who voted uncommitted, that translates to more than 100,000 people. It's not a small number in a swing state that may well be tight in November.

LANDRIEU: Well, let me say, there is no small number in an election that's going to be, you know, razor-thin close. So every vote matters. And the president understands that and knows that and will continue to work on that and listen to what folks' concerns are.

KELLY: Yeah.

LANDRIEU: But as we move on, this election is going to be a choice between Donald Trump and autocracy and oppressing people and revenge, and it's going to be about Joe Biden, who lifts people up and brings people together, creates lots of jobs. And so the contrast is going to be very, very stark. Every issue is complicated, and this is one of them that needs to be worked through.

KELLY: To this issue that was being raised by the Listen to Michigan people - this is a group led by predominantly younger Arab American and Muslim organizers - how are you going to convince them? People who are very upset with the president's handling of the war in Gaza, how are you going to convince them to back him?

LANDRIEU: Well, we're going to continue to talk to them. We're going to continue to listen to what it is that they have to say. When you're the commander in chief and when, in fact, you are representing the United States' interests, there are no issues that are easy. And this is obviously a very painful issue for them and for lots of other folks in the United States of America. We're going to continue to talk to them and then ask them to think about the choices and what the consequences are about electing somebody who wants to have a Muslim ban, electing somebody who is going to be much, much worse than the difficult circumstances that we have right now. The president is going to reach out, we're going to continue to listen, and he's going to continue to work with them as we find an answer to this very difficult problem.

KELLY: And what about younger voters? The AP, their results show that the uncommitted vote in the county where the University of Michigan sits was higher than statewide, so more voters who may skew younger voting uncommitted. How are you going to engage those voters, people in their 20s and 30s?

LANDRIEU: Well, there's no question about it. But listen, there are a lot of issues that affect young voters, not just this one. All these issues, they're intersecting. And when you start talking about climate change, when you talk about the economy, when you talk about health care issues, when you talk about the right to control your own body, to marry who you want, all of these issues will come into play. And remember, the question in November will be Trump versus Biden. And of course, when everybody's already seen what Donald Trump has done - he is going to govern in chaos, he's going to govern in revenge.

He actually, by the way, had a much worse night last night than people expected him to. Remember, in South Carolina and in Michigan, he lost 30 and 40% of the vote, half to Nikki Haley, half of whom has said that they are open to voting for Joe Biden. So you really have to think through what the choices are going to be. And Joe Biden, as you know, he wakes up every day thinking about the American people. He tries to make everybody's life easier. We're building 46,000 projects across America. We're actually reducing people's costs in their lives.

KELLY: Right.

LANDRIEU: Donald Trump's been the exact opposite, and he's been a real anchor. And there's going to be really, really, really - you know, create a bad situation for the country if he's reelected again. And I think when the choice is before everybody in November, my guess is because the American people are really great, that they're going to choose Joe Biden and not Donald Trump.

KELLY: Since you are co-chair of the Biden campaign, let me put to you directly the question that many voters tell us is on their mind, which is the president's age. President Biden had his annual physical today. It showed very little change from last year...

LANDRIEU: Well, that's...

KELLY: Hold on. I know you're going to tell me the concerns about his age are overblown, that he's sharp, that you're with him all the time and he's up to the job. My question is, what are voters missing that that is not the image that comes across?

LANDRIEU: Well, wait a minute. Well, if you know that that's what I'm going to say to you and you know that it's true, why do we gloss over it? The fact of the matter is the president...

KELLY: I'm not glossing over it, I'm asking, why do voters not get what you're telling me?

LANDRIEU: But let me - let's answer the direct question first. How fit is Joe Biden to be president of the United States? Very fit. His physical today shows that he's strong as an ox. The guy who's got a real challenge, who eats a lot more No. 1s from McDonald's than anybody else, is Donald Trump. And Joe Biden, I have been with him for two years, and I can personally attest to the fact - and by the way, you know, numerical age is not nearly as important as the age of your ideas. Donald Trump's ideas are going to take us back 50 years to a time that they thought was better than today that never was. And Joe Biden...

KELLY: But my question again, why does that not come across to voters?

LANDRIEU: Well, this is - well, first of all, we're just starting the campaign. And as people see on TV the things that Joe Biden has done and how he's acted and the consequences of his governorship - now think about this, Joe Biden in the first three years of his administration created 15 million jobs. So I don't know what's more important, 81 or 15 million. Donald Trump lost 2.5 million jobs. Here's another number for you, 91.

KELLY: OK.

LANDRIEU: That's the number of criminal complaints that Donald Trump has against him. Joe Biden has zero. When you think about the numbers that matter to people's lives, that impact the way they live, Joe Biden is going to be the choice for most Americans.

KELLY: Mitch Landrieu, we will leave it there. He's co-chair of the Biden campaign. We appreciate your time. Come back and talk to us again.

LANDRIEU: Thank you, ma'am. Good talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Kathryn Fox
Mary Louise Kelly
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.