Muslims Struggle to Find Suitable Candidate
The presidential candidates of both parties are competing for cash and votes on every front, with one possible exception.
Muslim Americans, particularly conservatives, say they feel slighted this election cycle. Rather than court Muslims, Republican candidates have been competing for the toughest stance on national security and openly discussing whether Muslims should be allowed to serve in their administrations.
“I’m very unhappy with the Republican Party. I’m hanging on with a string,” said Seeme Hasan, a Colorado-based Muslim whose family has donated more than $1 million to the Republican Party and its candidates.
Still, Hasan said she would not vote for President Barack Obama because he has repeatedly disappointed her. She cited two examples: His decision to keep open the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and his recent approval of the defense authorization bill with controversial new detention policies.
“Obama may say, ‘I’m friendly with Muslims,’ but all his actions from day one have been very unfriendly to Muslims,” she said. Hasan is supporting former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Her husband, Malik, runs HealthTrio, an electronic medical records firm with business ties to the Georgia Republican.
Many Muslims may disagree with Hasan — 64 percent supported Obama in a recent Pew survey — but community leaders say they share her pessimism about the election. Muslim voters have historically voted as a bloc, but they are scattered among the candidates this time around and, in many cases, unimpressed with their choices.
“Some members of the Muslim community are saying we should take a stand and say we support the Green Party,” said Naeem Baig, chairman of the American Muslim Taskforce, a coalition of a dozen national Muslim organizations.
The group endorsed Obama through its political action committee in 2008, but Baig said many members feel let down because of Guantánamo and the defense bill.
“Why should we trust such an administration that makes promises and doesn’t keep up with its promises?” he asked.
Community leaders have discussed throwing support behind Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) because of his stances on civil-liberty issues and foreign policy, but questions about Paul’s viability have kept them from doing so.
Several Muslim donors have so far held off on supporting the current candidates. Amanullah Khan is a Texas doctor who has given more than $110,000 to political causes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry until Perry pulled out of the Republican primary, but Khan has not given to any of the remaining contenders.
Ray Mahmood, a Virginia businessman who has hosted Vice President Joseph Biden at his house for fundraisers, has given about $150,000 to Democratic candidates and causes. But the most recent public records show he has not donated to Obama’s re-election campaign yet.
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.
“There’s a conservative vein that could be taken advantage of, but, in the current political climate, it’s not,” he said.