Early results show Rep. Rashida Tlaib, staunch supporter of BDS, crushing primary opponent
In a dramatic show of newly acquired political strength, Rep. Rashida Tlaib appeared well on her way to crushing City Council President Brenda Jones in Tuesday’s Democratic primary just two years after scraping by Jones by about 900 votes to win the seat.
Tlaib, who in 2018 became the first Palestinian-American woman and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, had a 2-to-1 vote lead as of 7 a.m. Wednesday with nearly 93,000 votes counted, according to the Wayne County elections division. While there was no indication of how many absentee ballots remained to be counted given the surge of mail-in voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic, about 90,000 votes were cast in total in the 2018 primary.
“I’m confident,” Tlaib said in a Facebook Live appearance on Tuesday night. “Our country is ready for someone like me and others that are saying enough, enough with corporate greed, enough with the assault on our families.”
Tlaib, 44, is a staunch supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) strategy of punishing Israel for mistreatment of Palestinians. In 2019, her efforts to visit her grandmother, who lives in Beit Ur Al-Fauqa in the West Bank were at first blocked by the Israeli government. Israel eventually said it would allow Tlaib to go under certain conditions that she rejected.
Jones has not conceded nor made any comment and would wait until at least Wednesday to do so, spokeswoman Acquanetta Glass said. “Based on the number of mail in ballots, the campaign does not anticipate results tonight,” Glass said on Tuesday.
The district is among the most Democratic in the nation, so a primary win is tantamount to winning the seat.
Tlaib held a consistently huge lead over Jones from the first burst of numbers, hitting 66 percent to 33 percent by early Wednesday. That margin suggests that her unusually national high profile and her assiduous attention to the district paid off in a big way. Jones slammed Tlaib as preoccupied by fame and controversy; she countered by referencing the four neighborhood service centers she opened to handle constituent problems and pointed to a Washington Post analysis showing she’d hosted the 10th most town halls of any House Democrat during her term.
Yet Tlaib is best known as a member of The Squad, a political alliance with Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota based on their hard-left progressive views, personal affinity for one another and their common experiences as first-term women of color routinely attacked by President Donald Trump and other Republicans.
The quartet recently formalized the moniker by founding the Squad Victory Fund to raise campaign cash for one another and to give to like-minded candidates. Across the nation, Republican candidates have been using the four women’s images to invoke fear among conservative voters or to make them emblematic of an “extreme” agenda.
During the 2018 campaign, Tlaib gave conflicting answers on her views regarding Israel and Palestine. Her campaign co-chair, who is Jewish, told the Forward she supported a two-state solution and J Street, the liberal Jewish PAC, said she told them the same thing in advance of their endorsement. Yet J Street withdrew that endorsement after the primary after Tlaib told another media outlet she supports a one-state solution.
Last week, she clarified her view in a controversial interview with Newsweek in which the longtime Bernie Sanders acolyte also raised eyebrows by saying she was not endorsing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
“I will tell you: One state,” she said. “I remember stories of my grandfather farming next to an Arab Jew and just farming, picking olives side by side. I think that’s possible again one day.”
Still, national Jewish groups and donors that have stepped up to fund fellow Squadder Ilhan Omar’s opponent in Minneapolis were largely silent in the Tlaib-Jones race in part because Jones has a history of praising Louis Farrakhan. Omar’s primary is Aug. 11.
Many in the political and media worlds predicted the Tlaib-Jones rematch would be close based on past outcomes as well as the fact that the district, which is 55% Black, was drawn specifically to boost African-American representation in Congress. Jones is Black; Tlaib is not. Yet in a twist, many of the activists at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter protests in Detroit this summer are highly critical of Jones and accused her of being insufficiently supportive of efforts to reform the police in her role on the City Council. Tlaib, by contrast, attended several BLM rallies.
Still, it wasn’t long ago that Tlaib bested Jones by just one percentage point in a six-way race to win the 2018 Democratic nomination for the term she is now in. In that race, it seemed evident that Tlaib eked by because another 24.5% of the vote went to three other Black candidates including former State Senator Ian Conyers, grandnephew of the late Rep. John Conyers who had held the seat in contention since 1965.
What’s more, Tlaib narrowly lost an election to Jones, 60, that same day. After Conyers resigned the seat amid a sexual harassment scandal in December 2017, then-Governor Rick Snyder scheduled a special primary election to complete the congressional term on the same ballot as the regularly scheduled Democratic primary for the next full term. In that second race, Jones edged out Tlaib by two percentage points in a four-person field, then served in Congress for five weeks until Tlaib was sworn in the following January.
Mildred Gaddis, a fixture of Black radio in Detroit, says Tlaib was a more visible and engaged candidate this year. Jones, who spent part of the campaign recovering from COVID-19, did few interviews and little retail politicking, Gaddis said.
“Detroiters want to be asked, they want to hear from you, they want to feel like they matter to you, and Brenda Jones wasn’t doing that,” Gaddis said. “She has people who love her, who respect her, but just having been the person who’s been around might not be enough to take her over the finish line. And the people in southwest Detroit, they love Rashida.”