President Bill Clinton started the annual tradition of hosting Muslims at the White House during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan a tradition that was continued by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (above).
California businessman S.A. Ibrahim backed President George W. Bush in 2004 and Obama four years later, but he hasn’t yet stepped into the current presidential race either. Ibrahim has donated more than $50,000 across party lines.
Muslims have been swing voters in recent elections. Theirs is a diverse community from many parts of the world and varying socioeconomic backgrounds but one that appears to vote in unison.
In 2000, 70 percent of Muslims backed Bush. Four years later, a similar percentage supported Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). The community backed Obama even more resoundingly, giving him 90 percent of its vote in 2008.
Muslims make up less than 1 percent of the population, but large concentrations live in key electoral states such as Ohio, Michigan and Virginia. Many in the community have attained higher income and education levels than the general population, and they remember a time when presidential contenders went out of their way to court them and their dollars.
Bush set up meetings between Muslims and GOP leaders as part of his outreach in 2000. He also made the first-ever visit by a presidential candidate to an Islamic center, a gesture that helped him secure the community’s vote.
“President Bush made a concerted effort to reach out to the Muslim community,” a former Bush administration official told Roll Call.
Before Bush, President Bill Clinton started the annual tradition of hosting Muslims at the White House during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The current presidential contenders have not made such public efforts to reach out. None of the presidential campaigns responded to requests for comment on this story.
“Unfortunately, there is no effort so far to get the Muslim vote,” said David Ramadan, a Republican Member of the Virginia House of Delegates who was born into a Muslim family and is active in the faith community.
Primaries tend to focus on the base, Ramadan noted, saying he expects the Republican nominee to make more outreach efforts to ethnic communities, including Muslims, during the general election. He said Romney has an advantage over his GOP rivals as a Mormon who can relate to religious minorities.
Yahya Basha is a board member of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce who backs Romney. As the head of Basha Diagnostics, a health company based in Michigan, Basha was drawn to Romney’s business background.
“He represents one of the minorities. In addition, he is a businessman,” Basha said. “The economy is the first issue we need to take care of.”
Basha said his views set him apart from his Muslim friends, many of whom still have “deep love and respect” for Obama. A group called Muslims for Obama is increasing its efforts to mobilize voters for the president.
Republicans haven’t helped their own cause, Basha added, citing negative comments on religious and ethnic minorities.
Though many Muslims are immigrants with ties abroad, a survey conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in 2008 found that Muslims vote based on domestic priorities such as education, civil rights, health care and jobs. The community teeters between the parties depending on the issue, according to Robert McCaw, CAIR’s government affairs coordinator.
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