Posted on March 9, 2020

Sanders Courts Muslim Voters for Michigan Edge

Holly Otterbein, Politico, March 8, 2020

Muslim and Arab-American voters were critical to Bernie Sanders’ upset victory in Michigan that gave his 2016 campaign a second life.

On Tuesday, he’s counting on them again to help revive his bid for the White House.

The Vermont senator has won endorsements from key Muslim elected officials here, tapped Muslim leaders to be his top surrogates, and held a rally this week in one of the largest Muslim communities in the country. {snip}

“It’s potentially significant if it’s going to be a close contest between him and Joe Biden in Michigan,” said Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage, a major Muslim political action committee that has endorsed Sanders. “But the key is turnout. Historically, Muslims in Michigan do not vote at high rates.”


The Sanders campaign tacked onto his calendar a rally in Dearborn, which attracted a diverse crowd and a large presence of Arab-Americans. A Shia imam, a Sunni state representative, a Palestinian surrogate and a Yemeni activist all spoke at the event, and an opening act featured dancers wearing Palestinian keffiyehs.

“The Arab-American community, they’re overwhelmingly supporting him,” said Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun, who is backing Sanders. “This district is full of immigrants. They still care about what happens back home. And he talked about having an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s very important to a lot of people.”

Last week, Sanders won the endorsement of the Dearborn-based Arab-American News. The newspaper wrote that his proposals “most closely align with the interests of the community,” citing his health care policy, climate change plan, and bill to end the United States’ involvement in the war in Yemen. They praised him for defending Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women elected to Congress who have endorsed his campaign, from attacks.


Sanders has also received praise from Muslim leaders for being the only top presidential candidate to attend the Islamic Society of North America’s convention last year, and for hiring the first Muslim presidential campaign manager in history.

Sanders’ team sent Tlaib and Abdul El-Sayed, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, to campaign for him in mosques in the state Friday. The team is also sharing a new video with Arab-American voters in the state, which features state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud applauding Sanders’ “Not Me, Us” motto and forecasting that “the Arab-American population and the Muslim American population are going to be that swing vote that deliver strong results” in Michigan.

“We have a special multi-layered program communicating directly with the community in different languages,” said Chuck Rocha, a senior adviser to Sanders, of the campaign’s outreach to Muslim and Arab-American voters. {snip}

Exit polling by the Council on American Islamic Relations showed that 58 percent of Muslim American voters backed Sanders on Super Tuesday. {snip}

At a canvass launch in Dearborn Saturday, Sanders’ field organizers told campaign volunteers, most of whom were Arab-American, that voters were receptive to Sanders’ position on Palestinian human rights and the Yemen war. A woman wore a shirt that read, “Habibi <3 Bernie 2020,” which translates to “my love.” Aides passed out pro-Sanders literature translated in Arabic.