Hillary Clinton Courts Muslim Voters In Swing States

Sep 16, 2016
Originally published on September 16, 2016 6:41 pm
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The Hillary Clinton campaign is trying to reach out to Muslim voters. It even has a national outreach director focused just on this. It comes as American Muslims are feeling increasingly alarmed by Donald Trump's calls to limit Muslim immigration and do surveillance at mosques. NPR's Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Muslims are a tiny fraction of the U.S. population, somewhere around 1 percent. But a lot of Muslims live in states that are competitive, like Florida, Virginia, Michigan and Ohio, and that's why the Clinton campaign is trying to make sure they show up on Election Day.

UNIDENTIFIED WORSHIPPERS: (Singing in foreign language).

KHALID: That's the sound of prayers in Florida this week, where families gathered to celebrate the Muslim holiday Eid. Democratic activists were also on hand to make a major voter registration push. Muslims lean Democrat, but they're less likely to be registered than most Americans. And so here in Orlando, as soon as Eid prayers finished, Mohamad Shatara grabbed a clipboard. Shatara is a regional organizing director for the Democratic Party.

MOHAMAD SHATARA: You - are you not - are you registered?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No.

SHATARA: Can we get you registered?

KHALID: Shatara is making a pitch to a man who tells him he's been a citizen for 20 years but never voted.

SHATARA: I can't - in Muslim community more than any - more than ever we need somebody. We can't have somebody who wants to throw us out. So you have - we need you.

KHALID: Shatara manages to convince him. Some of this outreach is organic. Muslims are, no doubt, motivated by the Republican nominee Donald Trump. He's threatened to ban Muslim immigrants and monitor mosques.

FAROOQ MITHA: The number one thing that I really hear about is the fear that Muslims have.

KHALID: That's Farooq Mitha, the Clinton campaign's national Muslim outreach director.

MITHA: The biggest concern that people have is domestic. Can I send my kids to school without them worried about getting bullied, for example, or am I safe to go pray at a mosque?

KHALID: Mitha travels the country to mobilize and organize Muslims, and he tells me Clinton wants to engage a community that historically has not been a part of campaign infrastructure. But there are skeptics, like Democratic activist Ali Kurnaz. He and I talked politics at a Middle Eastern restaurant. Kurnaz worries that Clinton only sees Muslims through a national security lens, and she needs to do more.

ALI KURNAZ: Muslims I don't think want to vote for Donald Trump. But if we're going to have to vote for Hillary Clinton, then please Hillary Clinton you should offer us some substantial policy positions that we can actually rally behind.

KHALID: Kurnaz was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the DNC. Sanders was, in fact, hugely popular with Muslims. One of his biggest supporters was Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota. These days, Ellison travels the country to convince Muslims to support Clinton.

KEITH ELLISON: I've gone to Nevada, Nebraska, California, Florida, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin. And we sit down, and we talk about it. Some of them will raise critical questions, and I'll respond to them.

KHALID: Ellison's role is indicative of how the Democratic Party's Muslim outreach is changing. There was a very public incident in the 2008 campaign when two women in headscarves were prevented by Obama volunteers from appearing behind the candidate at a campaign rally. The Obama campaign then hired a Muslim outreach director, Mazen Asbahi, a lawyer in Chicago.

MAZEN ASBAHI: It didn't take long for the far right to try to do some negative research. They made a guilt-by-association attack.

KHALID: Critics tied Asbahi to a controversial imam in the Chicago area. And within three weeks of his appointment, Asbahi had to resign. Now, Asbahi says, the country has changed.

ASBAHI: The type of guilt-by-association attacks that were made about me, today, would be brushed aside.

KHALID: And Keith Ellison agrees.

ELLISON: Seven Muslims addressed the delegates at the Democratic National Convention. Never before have we seen any. In neither 2008 or '12 were any Muslims on the dais at all.

KHALID: The congressman says that before this election, anti-Muslim rhetoric was coming from what he calls haters. Now it's coming from the GOP presidential nominee.

ELLISON: What I see this as is the Democratic Party saying, hold on, wait a minute. This is not a phase, (laughter) you know? We must confront this intolerance.

KHALID: And perhaps one side effect of Donald Trump's rise is that the Democratic Party can now publicly embrace Muslims. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.