CHICAGO: First-term Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a member of the anti-Trump “Squad” and a strong critic of Israeli policy, is losing ground in her re-election bid, according to a leading pollster.
Tlaib narrowly won Michigan’s 13th congressional district race on Aug. 7, 2018, defeating four African-American candidates to fill the vacancy left by the death of Congressman John Conyers.
Ed Sarpolus, a veteran pollster and former adviser to Conyers, said his polling shows Tlaib’s popularity in the district has dropped 28 percent in the 16 months since she took office, leaving her vulnerable to defeat in this year’s Democratic primary on Aug. 4.
So far only Brenda Jones, the popular Detroit City Council president who ran second in the 2018 election — losing to Tlaib by only 900 votes out of nearly 90,000 votes cast — has announced her intention to run again.
In a survey of voting intentions, Jones received 34 percent and Tlaib 43 percent, with 23 percent undecided.
The poll shows Tlaib’s lead dropping to 38 percent from 54 percent the previous year in Detroit, and from 57 percent to 48 percent in suburban areas.
Sarpolus cautioned that although polling shows Tlaib is vulnerable, Jones entered the race late and has struggled to build momentum in the past 16 months.
“Even though Tlaib’s base has been cut, Jones doesn’t have the money and hasn’t made any effort to organize a campaign since losing in 2018,” Sarpolus said.
He said that “organized efforts” had been made to defeat Tlaib.
“Political leaders in both parties in the state and nationally have expressed their unhappiness with her, and indicated their support for a replacement. Tlaib has alienated various special interest, ethnic and racial groups,” he said.
On top of those challenges, both candidates face uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic, with restrictions on face-to-face campaigning, rallies and even fundraising amid crippling unemployment and a sagging economy.
“Tlaib has lost support because some believe she has embarrassed Michigan with the things she has said,” Sarpolus claimed.
However, the Michigan rep’s attacks against Israel are unlikely to translate into strong opposition in the election since the Jewish community appears unwilling to enter the race strongly, he added.
Sarpolus said that Jones has done little campaigning until now and is yet to show she will be a strong candidate.
“Jones’ biggest problem is raising money. Tlaib has money and experience running a strong and effective campaign. This election is Rashida’s to lose,” he said.
The 13th district was held by Conyers, a popular African-American leader, for 52 years. The population base is 56.5 percent black, 37.6 percent white and 1.2 percent Asian.
Although Greater Detroit has a strong Arab-American presence in the district, their numbers are included in the white category by the Census.
Sarpolus said his polling shows that Tlaib and Jones are neck-and-neck in Detroit, where the African-American vote is based, but the former enjoys a stronger lead in the Detroit suburbs, or “out county” as it is often called in Michigan.
Tlaib has been a more vocal critic of Donald Trump than Jones, who failed to exploit the tensions that exist between the black community and the president, he said.
“The black community originally didn’t want Tlaib, but Jones has been quiet on Trump,” Sarpolus said, adding that this is a major political mistake for the candidate.
Although the election is more than 90 days away, a change in the voting process last election will allow “absentee” votes to be cast from July 1.
That means most voters are likely to make their decision a month before the election, reducing the campaign time to only two months, Sarpolus said.
More than 40 percent of voters cast absentee ballots in the last election and that number will increase dramatically.
Sarpolus said that many factors will decide the election, but his polling indicates that “this election is Tlaib’s to lose.”
He said that Jones has a lot of campaign ground to make up and lacks financial resources to mount an effective campaign.
“Brenda Jones has been around a long time. She has been very supportive of the Arab-American community and is president of the Detroit City Council,” Sarpolus said.
“The black community does not have a lot of money to support candidates in Greater Detroit, so Jones has had to turn to the business community, which has been hit hard by the pandemic,” he added.