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Ignoring Arab-Americans in '08?

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    Ignoring Arab-Americans in 08? By STEVEN GRAY/DEARBORN, MICH. Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007 TIME Magazine
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2007
      Ignoring Arab-Americans in '08?
      Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007
      TIME Magazine

      An Arab American walks in Dearborn, Mich.
      Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

      In 2003, Arab-Americans believed they were at a positive turning
      point. Most of the presidential candidates appeared in person or via
      satellite before that year's Arab-American Institute's National
      Leadership Conference. It was a far cry from two decades earlier, when
      a major candidate, Walter Mondale, very publicly returned donations
      from a group of Arab-American businessmen, saying it was his
      campaign's policy not to accept them from the ethnic group.

      But 2003 may have been the high-water mark. At the same conference,
      held in Dearborn, Michigan, last weekend, none of the top-tier
      candidates from either party showed up. New Mexico Gov. Bill
      Richardson, a Democrat, was the most prominent candidate to attend.
      Several Democrats submitted videotaped messages, but none of the major
      Republican candidates bothered to send even those. The absence of
      major candidates from both sides of the political fence underscores
      the perception among many Arab- and Muslim-American leaders that
      they've been deemed politically expendable — even as some of the 2008
      election's key issues (such as the Iraq War, the Israeli-Palestinian
      conflict and the debate over balancing domestic security and civil
      liberties) are of particular interest to their community.

      Arab-Americans constitute a relatively marginal share of the U.S.
      electorate — just 1.3 million voters, according to independent polling
      firm Zogby International — but make up a potentially crucial voting
      bloc in battleground states like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. They
      account for roughly 4% of all voters here in Michigan, home to the
      highest concentration of Arab-Americans. They tend to be better
      educated and more affluent than the U.S. population at large, and in
      recent years have swung between Republican and Democratic presidential
      candidates. "This is a community that is very much up for grabs,
      that's waiting to be wooed," says George Salem, a longtime Republican
      and the Arab-American Institute's chairman.

      None of the campaigns offered a significant explanation for their
      candidates' absence from this year's conference, or their failure to
      accept an invitation to participate in a question-and-answer session
      via satellite. A spokeswoman for former North Carolina Sen. John
      Edwards, a Democrat, said he had previously scheduled campaign events
      in Iowa.

      Part of the blame may lie with the Michigan primary, which has been
      scheduled for Jan. 15. Some Democratic candidates have pledged not to
      campaign in Michigan because the primary's new early date violates
      Democratic National Committee rules. Some candidates have pulled out
      of Michigan's primary altogether. However, Democratic officials in
      four other early-primary states — New Hampshire, Nevada, Iowa and
      South Carolina — have made an exception for the Arab-American
      Institute's conference, permitting Democratic candidates to attend the
      event if they wish. Given that exception, says Jim Zogby, the
      institute's president, whose brother heads the Zogby poll, says of the
      candidates: "They should have been here."

      The conference opened Friday with speeches from two lower-tier
      candidates who did attend: Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican, and
      former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, a Democrat. On Saturday, New York Sen.
      Hillary Clinton delivered a brief videotaped message, as did Barack
      Obama and John Edwards on Sunday. Speaking in person at the Doubletree
      Hotel in Dearborn, Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National
      Committee, drew applause from the conference's 600 or so participants
      with the observation that the field of Republican presidential
      candidates "looks like America in the 1950s, and when they open their
      mouths, sound like they're in the 1850s." Bill Richardson played up
      his diplomatic credentials and pledged that, if elected, he would
      swiftly close the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and more vigorously engage
      Iran and Syria.

      The conference had an unmistakably Democratic tone, reflecting the
      fact that nearly 40% of Arab-Americans identify as Democrats (about
      26% identify as Republican, down from 38% a decade ago). Particularly
      pronounced was the anxiety of many Arab-American Republicans. In 2000,
      President Bush won significant support from many Arab-American groups
      after expressing sensitivity toward racial profiling of Arab-Americans
      during the second presidential debate. But following his
      Administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,
      that support began to erode.

      Randa Fahmy Hudome, a longtime Republican consultant, reflects that
      alienation. She points to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's
      recent television ads, in which he says, "It's this century's
      nightmare: jihadism — violent, radical, Islamic fundamentalism. Their
      goal is to unite the world under a single jihadist caliphate. To do
      that, they have to collapse freedom-loving nations like us." Hudome
      complained about the ad to the Romney campaign. Now, she calls herself
      a "DR" — a "Disaffected Republican" — and is considering supporting
      Barack Obama.

      Many people at the conference said that in order to win the support of
      Arab-Americans, candidates on both sides of the fence must at least
      show a willingness to meet with them in person. Still, despite the
      absence of major candidates, Rebecca Abou-Chedid, the institute's
      national political director, says the conference wasn't a failure. She
      points to heightened interest in the institute's grassroots voter
      campaign, dubbed "Yalla Vote 2008" — Arabic for "Let's Go Vote 2008."
      Still, she says, "For a community that's still fighting to have a
      place at the table, you don't want to feel like you're going backwards
      if part of your measurement is how many presidential candidates attend."



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