With only a few hours before polls close on Election Day, Rashida Tlaib said she is optimistic about going back to Washington, DC.
An outspoken progressive and a Palestinian American, Tlaib is up for re-election on Tuesday to represent the 13th District of Michigan – a Democratic stronghold that she is almost certain to carry.
“I’m very confident we’ll be able to win,” Tlaib told Al Jazeera in a phone interview.
Tlaib, 44, is a staunch critic of US President Donald Trump and has been shaking things up since she made history two years ago as the first of two Muslim women to be elected to the US House of Representatives.
She and three other progressive Democratic congresswomen first elected in 2018 – Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts – are together known as “The Squad”.
Tlaib famously called the president an expletive while pledging to impeach him, while Trump has made her and her colleagues targets of several of his disparaging tweets.
On Tuesday, the congresswoman said hundreds have been lining up in her district – which includes parts of the city of Detroit – to cast their ballots.
“I’ve not, in all the years I’ve run for office, seen lines like this,” said Tlaib, crediting the crowds in part to a desire to vote Trump out of office.
“[It] gives me hope that the turnout is going to be high enough where it’s very clear that Donald Trump is not wanted as the president of the United States any more.”
Since joining the House of Representatives, Tlaib has advocated for progressive causes, such as raising the minimum wage, universal healthcare, addressing racial inequality and environmental protections.
She said those issues have resonated strongly with voters in her community – where she was elected with 84 percent support in 2018.
This time, the Democratic congresswoman is running against Republican challenger David Dudenhoefer, who erected a “REPLACE RASHIDA” billboard and auctioned off an AR-15 rifle to raise campaign funds.
Nicknamed “dude”, Dudenhoefer has not previously held public office.
Michigan is a critical battleground state when it comes to the presidential vote – and both Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, have held multiple rallies and events there in weeks of campaigning.
A historically Democratic state, Trump narrowly won Michigan in 2016 and is hoping for a repeat this year, while Biden is vying to win it back for the Democrats.
More than 2.8 million people in Michigan voted early, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida – more than 58 percent of all the votes cast in 2016.
Tlaib said the higher turnout rate she expects in her district this year could also be due to the fact that she kept campaigning even after it became apparent that she stood little chance of losing – often by showing up on voters’ doorsteps.
“When you really truly show folks that they matter, that they’re important, that they’re needed for their community and for our nation, people are more inspired to vote,” she said. “And that’s what we push forward in this election.”
Close presidential race
A poll last week by The New York Times and Siena College showed Biden leading in Michigan by eight points, with 49 percent support compared with Trump’s 41 percent.
In September, Trump drew ire from many in the state when he did not denounce white supremacist groups and instead told the far-right Proud Boys organisation, which is active in Michigan, to “stand back and stand by”.
In a series of tweets back in April, Trump also called on his supporters to protest against coronavirus lockdowns imposed by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer and to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”. Chants of “lock her up” often have been heard at his large, raucous rallies.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
Last month, multiple people with ties to two anti-government paramilitary groups were charged with an alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer – which Democrats have blamed on Trump’s rhetoric. Michigan is also reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed at least 7,716 in the state and is a major concern for many Michigan voters.
“I told my residents, as your congresswoman, I’m never going to sell out. I’m always going to work hard for you, but I need an administration I can work with,” said Tlaib, about how she feels about the Trump administration.
“I can’t work with a white supremacist, corrupt, lawless president.”
Tlaib said she draws hope from districts like hers and Omar’s in Minnesota, both “predominantly non-Muslim” communities that nonetheless elected two Muslim women to represent them.
“The shared values are real and people truly love that we have these lived experiences that allow us to lead with compassion and to have empathy when our residents are hurting,” she said.
“If anything, they see this connection [and] that we understand the pain that they’re going through.”