CHICAGO: Candidates in four recently redrawn Michigan congressional districts covering areas traditionally sympathetic to Palestinian interests are expected to face tough challenges in upcoming primaries, which could prevent the Arab American community from augmenting its political voice, two veteran political analysts said on Wednesday.
The candidates include Palestinian American lawyer and activist Huwaida Arraf, who is running in the 10th Congressional District; Jewish Representative Andy Levin, who currently represents the 9th District but will take on another incumbent in the 11th District; and two-term Palestinian Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who is the representative for the 13th District but is standing in the redrawn 12th District. Meanwhile there is an open field in the 13th District once represented by long-time pro-Arab senior representative John Conyers Jr.
Arraf, a strong campaigner for Palestinian rights, has been targeted by a vicious campaign focusing on her Arab heritage. Analysts said that despite her best efforts, she faces an uphill battle to enter Congress for the first time.
Meanwhile Levin, the son of former Michigan Senator Carl Levin, has chosen to run against a popular incumbent, Haley Stevens, jeopardizing what might have been an easier re-election win in another district.
“(Arraf) has just got too many people in the Democratic primary who are more likely to be the nominee in that 10th District,” said Bill Ballenger, the founder of Inside Michigan Politics, a biweekly newsletter launched in 1987, and publisher of The Ballenger Report.
“That 10th Congressional District is the only one where the Republicans have got a chance. They have got a probable nominee, John James, who has run twice for the US Senate. They could win that; it’s about a 50-50 district. It’s a brand new district just created by an independent commission. No incumbent is running in it.”
Levin, meanwhile, faces a different challenge, according to Ballenger.
“Andy Levin represented much of (the redrawn 10th District) under the old district lines but he has chosen to move next door (to the 11th District) and run against a fellow incumbent, Haley Stevens, in the Democratic primary.
“In the 11th, 12th and 13th districts the Democrats are going to win in November. It doesn’t make any difference who the Republicans nominate, the Republicans are going to lose. The only real mystery is who is going to win, either Levin or Stevens, in (their) district.
“Is Rashida Tlaib, an incumbent (standing) in another district, the 12th, going to survive her primary? I think she will. And then the 13th district is wide open: There is no incumbent and there are half a dozen big Democrat names in that, any one of whom might be able to win.”
Despite more than $1 million in campaign funds committed against Tlaib by her political enemies and political action committees affiliated with Israel’s political pit bull lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, she is expected not only to win the Aug. 2 Democratic primary but also the election on Nov. 8 against whichever candidate is selected by the Republican party.
However, Ballenger believes that Levin might have miscalculated by choosing to run against Stevens in the redrawn 11th District rather than contesting the new 10th District, where Arraf is standing. He said Levin, a strong advocate of the two-state solution and Palestinian and Israeli rights, could lose to Stevens, who represented the old 11th District.
Nine contenders have thrown their hats into the ring in the redrawn 13th District, which includes parts of Detroit and areas formerly represented by Tlaib. They include John Conyers III, son of the former congressman of the same name.
Ballenger said that although Conyers has a highly recognizable political name, there are other challengers in the 13th District Democratic primary who might have just enough name recognition of their own to make gains given the large number of contenders.
“In and of himself, John Conyers III is no rock star,” Ballenger said. “The only reason he is a factor is … the name Conyers is a golden name in that area because John Conyers, the father, served a record number of years (52) in Congress … so everybody knows that name. But some of the other names are fairly well known, they are just not as well-known as John Conyers.”
Dennis Denno, the president of Denno Research, which for 30 years has provided political consulting and polling services for candidates and elected officials, said Tlaib leads the field in her district despite strong challenges from fellow Democrats Shanelle Jackson and Janice Winfrey, a multi-term Detroit City Clerk.
Despite Winfrey’s long record of public service in Detroit, she “doesn’t have a strong enough base” to overcome Tlaib’s popularity, even if the latter is targeted by the AIPAC, said Denno.
“The problem for Janice Winfrey (is that) she has two other opponents besides Rashida Tlaib: She has Shanelle Jackson and (Kelly Garrett) the mayor of Lathrop Village, a small town in Oakland County. So, if you are anti-Rashida Tlaib you are going to split that vote three ways,” he explained.
“And ... a million dollars in a metro-Detroit media market doesn't go very far. ... Rashida Tlaib, whatever you think of her, is very tenacious. She can raise $1.5 million easily and I think that is going to be hard for someone like Janice to overcome.”
Tlaib introduced the first-ever resolution in the US House of Representatives seeking formal recognition of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. So farm, however, it has the support of fewer than a dozen progressives within the 435-member body.
Denno and Ballenger agreed that there will also be a big focus is on the race for governor in Michigan, a position currently held by first-term incumbent Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. They predict she will hold on to her seat because of divisions within the state’s Republican opposition “who are tearing away at each other, making a spectacle of themselves and damaging the Republican brand,” Ballenger said.
Although an endorsement from former US President Donald Trump might help to focus Republicans, it will not be enough to change the state leadership, Denno and Ballenger agreed.
“It’s a pretty competitive state and I would be surprised if Gov. Whitmer wins by more than 4 points,” said Denno. “There are so many unknowns out there: inflation, the Trump factor — who knows what is going to happen in the next five months.”
Ballenger added: “If Trump came in on behalf of one candidate, particularly if there are only five (candidates) on the ballot — or particularly, I guess more so, if there are 10 on the ballot, we don’t know at this point — it will help a Republican, whoever (Trump) endorses, in a primary.
“But the real question is if he comes in in a big way between the primary and the general election on behalf of the Republican nominee against Whitmer, I think that probably is going to hurt the Republicans.”
Midterm elections generally push voters away from the party in control of the White House, which could give the Republicans a nationwide edge in their battle to take control of the House, Senate and several gubernatorial seats.
But Michigan is split fairly evenly between Democrats, Republicans and independents, Denno and Ballenger said, which will make it difficult for any one party to guarantee an election sweep in the state.
Denno and Ballenger were appearing on June 1, 2022, on the Ray Hanania Radio Show, which is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News. It airs live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700. It is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. EST in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 radio and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.
You can listen to the radio show podcast here. (www.arabnews.com/RayRadioShow - hyperlinked)