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Michigan's 12th district race: A win-win for Arab Americans?

Solomon Rajput, a self-described progressive, is running to unseat Congresswoman Debbie Dingell
Dingell has done extensive outreach to the Arab community and has raised 10 times the amount of money that Rajput has.
Dingell has done extensive outreach to the Arab community and has raised 10 times the amount of money that Rajput has (AFP/Solomon for US Congress)

Political newcomer Solomon Rajput is hoping to become the first Muslim to represent Michigan's 12th district and unseat Debbie Dingell, the latest iteration of a political dynasty that has controlled congressional seats in the state for more than 80 years.

With an army of young people running and volunteering for his campaign, Rajput, 28, has tried to tap into issues he says negatively affect the Arab American community, which makes up a large percentage of the district's population.

Rajput is committed to "racial justice in his support to abolish ICE [the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] and withhold funds that would go towards the mistreatment of Palestinians", his campaign team told Middle East Eye on Monday.

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The medical student has been riding the "socialist wave" ever since he entered the race earlier this year, supporting progressive policies touted by figures such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, including a complete ban on assault rifles, tuition-free college and an overhaul of affordable housing.

But going up against Dingell, 66, who has widespread support in the district's Muslim and Arab communities, won't be an easy task.

"Congresswoman Dingell is a perfectly nice person, but she's not out there representing the values of our progressive district," Rajput told MEE earlier this year.

Dingell has represented the district for the last four years. Previously, it was held by her late husband John Dingell, who had served 59 years in Congress representing Michigan's 12th, 15th, and 16th districts.

His father, John Dingell Sr, was also a congressman who served for 22 years representing the 15th district. 

"John Dingell was a great friend to the community and so is his wife [Debbie]", Ali Jawad, a Lebanese businessman in Detroit, told MEE.

Dingell's record

Since assuming office, Dingell has voted in favour of blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and voted for ending the US's role in the war in Yemen.

"The war in Yemen has cost thousands of lives and created a devastating humanitarian crisis, and US participation in this conflict was never authorised by Congress," Dingell said in 2018.

With Dearborn hosting a large Yemeni American population, Dingell has received endorsements from several Detroit-based newspapers, including the Arab American News, and the Yemeni American News.

"Recognised as one of the 25 hardest-working members of Congress, Dingell is focused on forging bipartisan solutions that support Michigan’s families and economy, including improving long-term care and ushering in the future of the American auto industry, and continues to fight to make education more affordable and accessible," the Arab American News said in its endorsement of Dingell.

She has also been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump's Muslim ban, and both co-sponsored and voted for the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act (No Ban Act).

"National security experts have been clear that the Muslim ban has made our country less safe," Dingell said ahead of the vote. 

"In fact, strong national security policies include protecting the fundamental pillars of our democracy: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, compassion and justice."

Win-win for the Arab community

Rajput has accused Dingell of being a "progressive in name only", and claimed he would successfully work to end corporate control over the economy.

"This pandemic has shown just how fragile our corporate economy is," Rajput said, speaking about the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

"Right now, we are probably in one of the largest recessions in history, so what has gotten us out of recessions in the past? Governments supporting people, not corporations."

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Dingell, however, shot back at Rajput in a recent interview, saying she was focused on delivering for her constituents, rather than issuing talking points.

"I'm the lead sponsor of Medicare for All in Congress - I'm unapologetically progressive, but I’m not just about talking points. I'm about delivery," she said.

"And delivery means bringing together the people who will actually get it done."

Rajput faces an uphill battle at the polls, with less money, less experience, and the Arab community supporting Dingell.

Still, with both candidates supporting positions including ending the Muslim ban, opposing anti-BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment) legislation, and opposing the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, both candidates support policies that many in the Arab community care about.