CHICAGO: For President Joe Biden, a Democrat, the midterm elections are crucial and challenging. Traditionally, the party that controls the White House at this stage usually loses control of the House and the Senate. Now the Republicans are perched to take both from the Democrats in Tuesday’s elections.
Arab and Muslim Americans will play an important role in helping to define the outcome, reinforcing congressional seats they now control while expanding their community’s role in local state and municipal offices.
Here is an overview of some of the important contests to watch:
In Pennsylvania’s US Senate race, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Muslim TV medical personality of Turkish heritage, is the Republican candidate. He faces Democrat John Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor since 2019. Polling shows Oz leading Fetterman in the election, although Fetterman this week received an endorsement from TV powerhouse Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey originally helped Oz launch his own career as a TV personality when he first appeared on her show in 2004. Oz began hosting “The Dr. Oz Show” in 2009.
If Oz wins, he will become the first Muslim US senator. Five Arab Americans have served in the US Senate. All five are of Lebanese heritage although one was part Palestinian, and three Republicans.
According to the US Census, there are at least 84,472 residents who identify as Arab who come from Egypt, Iraq and Morocco, and 83,817 who identify as Muslim from the Arab world and Asia. Pennsylvania is one of six states including Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin and Nebraska that Donald Trump won in 2016 but that flipped for Biden in 2020.
Arab and Muslim Americans will have a strong say in Tuesday’s elections in races for Congress, state legislator and local municipal contests.
Since the 1950s, there have been 28 Arab Americans who have or continue to serve in the US House of Representatives. The majority have been Lebanese.
In California’s new 48th District, Republican incumbent Congressman Darrell Issa faces a challenge from newcomer Democrat Stephen Houlahan. Issa is expected to retain his seat. Issa served from 2001 until 2019 but came out of retirement to win the office, defeating fellow Arab American Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in 2020.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who is Christian Assyrian, is seeking reelection in California’s new 16th District. She faces a challenge from Republican Rishi Kumar.
In Michigan, Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, elected in 2019, is facing a minor challenge in the newly drawn 12th District from Republican Steven Elliot and Working Class Party candidate Gary Walkowicz. Tlaib is Palestinian.
As Michigan has the second-largest concentration of Arab Americans, voter excitement will be focused on local state legislative and municipal contests. They include several candidates running for the Michigan State House including several Democrats, Alabas Farhat in the 3rd District, Ghassan (Gus) Tarraf in the 4th District, Bilal Hammoud in the 15th District, Abraham Aiyash in the 9th District and Aisha Farooqi in the 57th District. The 3rd, 4th and 15th districts include parts of Dearborn. Aiyash is seeking reelection and is the first American of Yemeni origin to hold a legislative seat there.
Pollster and political consultant Dennis Denno is running with the backing of the Democratic Party for a vacancy on the eight-member Michigan State University board of trustees. There are also many school board candidates including Nadia Berry and Hassan Beydoun for full terms, and Danielle Elzayat and Hassan Nasser for partial terms on the Crestwood school board.
In Illinois, Republican Congressman Darin LaHood, who is Lebanese American, is expected to easily hold his seat in the new 16th District against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Haderlein.
Harvard graduate Abdelnasser Rashid defeated a veteran Democratic incumbent to win the party nomination for the 21st House District which covers the influential southwest suburban region of Chicago, which has one of the largest concentrations of Palestinian Americans. Democrat Nabeela Syed is running for the Illinois House 51st District legislative seat and is being challenged by Republican Chris Bos.
In Iowa, Democrat Sami Scheetz is running to become the state’s first Arab American state representative, in the 78th District.
In Minnesota, Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar in the 5th District and Betty McCollum in the 4th District, some of the most effective voices in championing Arab and Muslim American issues in Congress, are not expected to easily defeat their challengers. Omar is being challenged by Republican Cicely Davis, and McCollum is being challenged by Republican May Lor Xiong.
However, recent polling shows Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison may lose his reelection bid to his Republican challenger Jim Schultz. Ellison is the state’s first Muslim attorney general and first to win a statewide office there.
In Louisiana, Congressman Garret Graves, a Republican of Lebanese heritage, is seeking reelection in the 6th District, challenged by Republican Brian Beizer and Libertarian Rufus Craig. No Democrat is running.