Tags: Arab-Americans | Play | Significant | Role | U.S. | Elections

Arab-Americans Play Significant Role in U.S. Elections

Tuesday, 05 November 2002 12:00 AM

The current mobilization of the Arab-American community is seen as especially relevant this election cycle, given the relatively tight races in important states where Arab-Americans are a key constituency. This, in addition to the fact that control of the Senate and House of Representatives will be decided in these midterm elections, means Arab-Americans may be key determinants of the make-up of the next Congress.

Two of the most active organizers of the vote effort have been the Arab American Institute and the National Association of Arab Americans-American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee (NAAA-ADC), which was created by the merger between the NAAA and the ADC in March 2000.

"The future of Congress is at stake," Khalil Jahshan, director of NAAA-ADC, wrote in a November 1 letter to Arab-Americans. "[Arab-American] votes will play a significant part in determining which political party will control the legislative agenda in the Senate and the House of Representatives for the next two years."

Because of the relative parity of the two parties in the House and the Senate, control of either or both chambers could easily swing to one party or the other. With major population concentrations in key swing states, Arab-Americans figure to play prominent roles in the outcome of elections in Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, California, New Jersey, Florida and Texas.

"The degree of involvement has gone up every year that we have been engaged in this work and this year is no exception," said AAI President James Zogby. "The community is very actively involved in fundraising, in get-out-the-vote efforts, in volunteering, in doing general campaign activity, and it is actually quite exciting," he added.

Arab-American voters make up between 1.5 percent and 4.5 percent of the total voting population in 55 congressional districts across the United States, according to an October 31 AAI statement. Furthermore, according to a 2000 Zogby International poll, 88.7 percent of Arab-Americans are registered to vote, the third highest percentage of voter registration after Jewish-Americans and African-Americans.

Not only will Arab-Americans play a major role at the ballot box, but also 37 Americans of Arab descent are running for office on the local, state and national levels.

In California, Maad Abu Ghazalah (Libertarian) is a first generation Arab-American who is taking on 22-year incumbent Tom Lantos (Democrat). Abu Ghazalah is Arab-American of Palestinian origin who immigrated to the United States in 1979.

Like many of the current candidates, the September 11 attacks have given Abu Ghazaleh a newfound sense of purpose and commitment, he said.

"I feel the United States is currently at a crossroads in its history, and I feel the situation is too urgent to simply write letters to the editor or sign petitions," the 40-year-old Abu Ghazaleh said. "We must decide how we, as a nation, are going to respond to the tragedy of 9/11/2001."

One of the more interesting races is in New Hampshire, where Congressman John Sununu (Republican) is taking on Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat) for a Senate seat. Arab-American Sununu forfeited his House seat to run for the Senate. Shaheen, who was elected New Hampshire's first female governor in 1996, is married to Democratic activist and prominent Arab-American Judge Bill Shaheen. Although Sununu and Shaheen differ in their positions on the economy, the environment and corporate accountability, both support the Bush Administration's position on Iraq.

Asked if the more visible participation of Arab-Americans in the electoral process is a reflection of the backlash against the community resulting from September 11, Zogby said that, "It is not. There is no question that there are problems. But I think that the backlash was overstated."

Zogby said that as early as the end of September 2001, immediately after the terrorist attacks, AAI held its scheduled annual "Candidates Night" in Virginia and New Jersey, in which both Republican and Democratic candidates came along with elected officials, and both events were packed with participants from the Arab-American community.

Candidates Night is an AAI event which allows Arab-American voters to meet candidates running for public office and raise issues of concern to the Arab-American community in order to cast an informed vote on Election Day.

"I saw no evidence that Arab-Americans were themselves either going to be discouraged from involvement or that we were going to see a backlash and the candidates were going to stay away. To the contrary, I saw people in the community more energized and I saw candidates making a point of paying attention to Arab-Americans after September 11 in an effort to make the community more confident that their rights would not be negatively impacted by the terrorist attacks," Zogby explained.

According to NAAA-ADC's Jahshan, in spite of the September 11 crisis, the same percentage of Arab-Americans, close to 70 percent, will participate in the elections.

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The current mobilization of the Arab-American community is seen as especially relevant this election cycle, given the relatively tight races in important states where Arab-Americans are a key constituency. This, in addition to the fact that control of the Senate and...
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Tuesday, 05 November 2002 12:00 AM
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