Arabs Win Big in Michigan Primaries: Rashida Tlaib Among Incumbent Re-Elections
By: Riley Bryant / Arab America Contributing Writer
As the string of primary elections passes through the various US states, candidates are one-by-one passing the first step to public office by winning (or losing) their local primaries. Among last Tuesday’s elections was the state of Michigan, famous for its dense Arab populations in and around Detroit, specifically Dearborn. Last Tuesday’s election in Dearborn, particularly, gained national attention when it became the first city in the US to include Arabic voting materials. From their powerful Arab population have emerged several Arab politicians, the first Muslim congressperson, and a spectacular increase in recognition of the impact of the Arab American community.
Now that the dust has settled and the votes are in, let’s take a look at the wins that the Arab community achieved in Michigan last week.
Rashida Tlaib’s Landslide Dearborn Victory
The face of Arab politicians, the first woman of Palestinian descent in Congress, and Detroit native, Rashida Tlaib has broken down barriers for Arab representation in Congress since her initial election in 2018. With her fellow 2018-elected colleague Ilhan Omar (D-MN), she is the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress. Whether you agree with her politics or not, she is an icon and role model for Arab girls everywhere, not just in Michigan.
Tlaib has been wildly popular in her district since her first election in 2018. She is a member of “The Squad,” an unofficial cohort of six Democrat Congress-people who advocate for a younger generation and progressive political agendas (Omar is also a part of The Squad). Her fierce defense of Michigan interests, Arab American representation, and other Democratic values have made her a household name throughout Michigan and the rest of the country.
For these reasons, Tlaib was largely expected to turn out a victory in the primaries- and she did not disappoint. Tlaib dominated in a landslide 63% over her opponents, who combined barely garnered half as many votes. She is also expected to see similar results at the general election in November, though anything is possible.
This election was a bit different for Tlaib than her previous races, as a result of the redistricting following the 2020 census. Though her new district (which contains more of an Arab-centric Dearborn than it did previously) has a slightly different voter makeup than her last, her win in 2022 implies that her popularity spans past her old district and suggests that she may have smooth sailing through to November.
Shadia Martini for Michigan’s 54th District State Legislature
New kid on the block Shadia Martini also earned a big win in the race for the state legislature. Martini, born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, before moving to Michigan in the 90s, has experience as a human rights advocate and refugee volunteer. Her advocacy experience is what pushed her to run for public office in the first place. As she puts it, “We’ve spent a lot of time asking politicians for help in human rights. It’s time to have an actual Syrian uplifting our own community.”
Yet, as for all newcomers, the election was no walk in the park. Not only was Martini running in a divisive swing district, but she was also facing a political veteran in Stephanie Fakih, who is currently serving in an elected city council position within the 54th district. Analysts projected Fakih as the clear victor between the two.
Yet, the ballots told a different story last Tuesday. All throughout the day, early polls showed no conclusive winner between Martini and Fakih. Back and forth the pendulum of victory swung between the two until there was no use trying to stay awake for the results. The next morning, after a tedious 24 hours and a fierce nailbiter, the tight race pointed to Martini, who won by a slim 384 votes, or 4% of total ballots cast.
Martini’s success makes her the first person of Syrian heritage to be nominated to the Michigan state legislature. If elected in November, she will be the first Syrian-American to serve the state in such a capacity. However, her journey is far from over. Now, she must face off against Republican candidate Donni Steele in a district that is nearly 50-50 split in political ideology. While the swing district, which includes parts of Bloomfield, Oakland, and Auburn Hills, is technically red-majority, past voting records indicate an openness to voting blue, with the region opting to vote for Biden during the 2020 presidential election. Though it’s too early to tell, Martini will definitely have her work cut out for her leading up to November.
The Clouds with the Sunshine: Andy Levin Loses to AIPAC-Sponsored Haley Stevens
While Michigan saw celebrations for Arab Americans everywhere, it can’t always be rosy. One of the largest pro-Israel lobbying groups, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), won its fight to nominate incumbent Rep. Haley Stevens over fellow incumbent Rep. Andy Levin. Due to the redistricting of this election, both Congress-people were pitted against each other in a battle of the incumbents.
Levin, who lost despite major endorsements from the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, has had a conflicting history with his stances on the Palestinian occupation. Levin himself is Jewish, and comes from a long line of Jewish-American politicians; yet, he has been outspoken towards the rights of the Palestinian people, advocating for US-Palestine relations, aid, and services (though, in line with his own heritage, he has not acted against Israel in the same way he has acted in favor of Palestine).
His recognition of Palestinian rights made him a target for pro-Israel groups like AIPAC, who instantly funded Stevens’ campaign with thousands of anti-Palestinian dollars. Though Levin’s grassroots campaign fought hard against Stevens’ corporate funding, in the end, he just lost the nomination in a near 60-40 split.
Moving Forward: Outside of Michigan and On to November
In other recent primaries, California voted incumbent Arab American Darrell Issa to the general election for his seat in the US House of Representatives, representing California’s 50th district in San Diego. Issa is of Lebanese descent. In related interests, Assyrian- and Armenian-American Anna Eshoo also won her nomination in Northern California’s 18th district.
The aforementioned Ilhan Omar narrowly squeaked by in Minnesota yesterday, just barely defeating challenger Don Samuels 50.3% to 48.2%. Omar is expected to have a much larger margin in the November election, though only because her district is largely Democrat-identifying (D+30 on the Cook Partisan Voting Index). Her narrow victory against fellow Democrats suggests a wavering command over her constituents, opening the door to more likely takedowns from her critics. Yet, for now, Omar lives another day and can happily turn her attention to the more pressing November general election.
While this list only covers a few, there are dozens of Arab Americans serving at local, state, and federal levels across the country. Regardless of who is running in your area, be sure to get out to the polls to make your voices heard this primary season! And don’t forget- Election Day is Tuesday, November 8, 2022. Check your local ballot offices to find more information on polls, voter registration, candidate information, and more.
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