Arab American Institute - November 15, 2004
Arab Americans in election 2004
By Dr. James Zogby
This was an historic election and Arab Americans responded to its challenges. As our polling showed, in addition to concerns over the economy, education and healthcare, Arab Americans were particularly motivated this year by US policy in Iraq and Palestine, and concern over civil liberties.
Our final post-elections poll showed that largely because of these concerns, Arab Americans voted for change in record numbers. John Kerry received 63% of the Arab American vote, while President Bush won 28%. Voter turnout was substantial as was Arab American participation on all levels of the political process. And it was noticed, drawing both media attention and praise from party leaders in many states.
From the election’s beginning over one year ago, it was clear that Arab Americans were entering a different stage in their political life. When all eight Democratic candidates for the presidency, and the chairman of the Bush Reelection Committee appeared before the Arab American Institute’s National Leadership Conference in October 2003, Arab Americans understood that the days of their exclusion from American politics were over.
Despite an abbreviated Democratic primary and an uncontested Republican campaign, over 70 Arab Americans were elected as Democratic and Republican delegates to their respective party conventions. At the two party meetings, Arab Americans hosted major events, including two well-attended policy forums.
Throughout the year, Arab Americans registered voters, and organized and mobilized the community to make an impact in November. In all, there were two dozen AAI-sponsored candidates nights, rallies and civic education workshops that brought more than 200 candidates and elected officials together with over 4,000 community members.
Hundreds of Arab Americans volunteered to work in election campaigns or non-partisan “Get Out The Vote” efforts, contacting over 300,000 Arab American households. And, in the end the community did vote, in record numbers.
Arab Americans also ran for office or supported the candidacies of those who have worked to address community concerns. Forty-four Arab American candidates were on the ballot this year-from Ralph Nader’s controversial independent bid for President to Mohammad Khairallah’s successful bid to be reelected as city councilman in Prospect Park, NJ. Overall, 24 won and 20 lost. Five Arab American candidates in Michigan won, including two Democratic state representatives and one Republican sheriff.
Mitch Daniels, a Republican from Indiana won his bid to become Governor of that state. Daniels, a former member of President Bush’s cabinet, became the nation’s second serving Arab American governor with Maine's John Baldacci.
In one of this year’s most interesting elections, Ferial Masry, a Democrat, lost her bid to become a State Assemblywoman in California. Because Masry is a Saudi Arabian immigrant to the US, her campaign drew substantial national press attention-all overwhelmingly favorable. Despite being under funded and running against a Republican incumbent in a largely Republican district, Masry won a substantial 41.6% of the vote. She received the endorsement of newspapers and civic groups across the district, and the respect of citizens throughout California. Ferial Masry is poised to remain an important political player and an outstanding Arab American leader for years to come.
When the new Congress convenes in January 2005, it will include three returning Arab American members who won reelection: Democrat Nick Rahall of West Virginia, and Republicans Ray LaHood of Illinois and Darrell Issa of California. They may be joined by a fourth member. Republican Charles Boustany of Louisiana will compete in a run-off election in December to fill the vacancy left by another Arab American, Democrat Chris John, who resigned his seat in a losing bid to become a Louisiana Senator.
These Arab American members of Congress will join over 30 other representatives who were supported by the Arab American community’s largest political action committee. It is significant here to note that one member of this group is Democrat Cynthia McKinney of Georgia who returns to Congress after a two-year absence. It will be recalled that McKinney lost her seat in 2002 after the pro-Israel groups raised substantial amounts of money to defeat her. Haunted by some negative comments she had made about President Bush, McKinney also suffered a backlash from over 35,000 Republican voters who supported her opponent, thereby defeating her in the 2002 primary race. This year, the story was different. An Arab American activist, Saed Moujtahed, spent the year raising money and organizing Arab American events in support of McKinney. In an important turnaround, she won.
And so, election 2004 enters the history books. Despite the challenges that remain, Arab Americans responded. Building on 20 years of political organizing, the community produced a record of which they can be proud.
A record number voted, the community solidified its place in both political parties, they supported Arab Americans who ran for office and those who supported our community’s concerns, and raised on the national level, the issues that were of greatest concern: the war in Iraq, the plight of the Palestinian people and the threat to civil liberties.
Those who remember when Arab Americans were not organized politically, had no role in the parties, had their contributions and endorsements rejected, and had no opportunity to debate critical issues-know how significant this record of progress has been.
Challenges remain. But Arab Americans have shown that they are positioned to meet these challenges, now and in the future.