Is the writing on the wall for a second Squad member? Last week, FEC reports showed Ilhan Omar getting blown out of the water in fundraising by MN-05 primary challenger Antone Melton-Meaux. In Michigan’s 13th CD, the opposite dynamic holds — incumbent Rashida Tlaib holds a massive fundraising advantage over her only primary challenger, Detroit city council president Brenda Jones. Jones has only raised $135,000, compared to Tlaib’s $2.8 million in a D+32 district.
However, the New York Times notes, Tlaib may not measure up to Jones in another way — and that might matter most to progressives in the Black Lives Matter moment:
Despite — or perhaps because of — millions of dollars in her campaign account and a national profile, Ms. Tlaib, 43, is likely the most endangered member of the so-called squad, the diverse group of progressive Democratic women who were elected to the House in 2018 and have come to embody the vanguard of the party’s majority.
Catapulted to national prominence by a profane call to impeach the president uttered on the day she was sworn in, and insulted with racist tropes by Mr. Trump, Ms. Tlaib has drawn plenty of headlines during her first term. Now her primary contest — a bitter rematch against a prominent Black leader — is testing Ms. Tlaib’s ability to ensure that her work outshines her celebrity.
It has also pitted two overlapping and often allied Democratic constituencies — Black Americans and the progressive left — against each other, making Ms. Tlaib, a symbol of the party’s growing diversity, into a target.
For more than a half century, Ms. Tlaib’s district was represented by John Conyers Jr., a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus who died last year. Brenda Jones, the Black president of the Detroit City Council who is challenging her, has positioned herself as a more fitting successor.
This is a rematch for Jones and Tlaib. Two years ago, Tlaib won the six-person primary for the open seat left by the scandal-prompted resignation of John Conyers. This time, it’s just between Tlaib and Jones, who briefly held the seat after a special election:
In the primary she’s facing a challenge from Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who held the congressional seat for a short time in 2018 after she was elected to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former longtime U.S. Rep. John Conyers after he was accused of sexual harassment.
When both Tlaib and Jones were on the ballot in 2018, Detroit voters chose Jones to fill the partial term and Tlaib for the new term starting in 2019.
But those 2018 races split the vote between many candidates. Now, the two will go head-to-head in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary. Going into the race, Tlaib has a big fundraising advantage. She’s pulled in $2.87 million and has $1.28 million cash on hand, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Jones, meanwhile, has raised $37,512 and has $16,661 left in cash on hand.
Neither of these articles mention any polling, but Tlaib and her supporters are taking the Jones challenge seriously. In fact, they’re so serious about it that one of Tlaib’s supporters sued to get Jones disqualified from the primary. She came within 1,000 votes of Tlaib in the 2019 primary, and had it been a two-woman race, Jones likely would have prevailed.
How about now? Jones might not have many resources, but she’s gathering a lot of local support. The other 2018 challengers have now lined up behind Jones, including Conyers’ great-nephew Ian Conyers and the leader of the local NAACP chapter. Former state senator Coleman Young, also one of the 2018 challengers, explains why they’re lining up behind Jones. They want a black candidate representing a House district that is majority black — 54.8%, according to the Almanac of American Politics:
“I’m always for African-American leadership,” said Coleman Young II, a former state senator and one of the 2018 primary contenders who has endorsed Ms. Jones this time. “You don’t have to be Black to represent Black people, but you do have to be informed and it has to be a priority. And I just don’t see it being a priority for constituents of the 13th district right now.”
Without reliable polling, it’s tough to know whether Jones presents a real threat to Tlaib. However, Tlaib’s self-promotion as a Squad members and a Bernie Sanders acolyte has apparently rubbed everyone the wrong way. Jones has promised a return to Conyers’ style of representation — bringing home the bacon and promoting Detroit’s issues, not a pet agenda.
If that annoyance has become widespread, Jones might well steal a march on Tlaib, just as Melton-Meaux may do in MN-05. Put that together with the momentum of Black Lives Matter in cities like Detroit, and the chances of voters coalescing around an African-American woman go up considerably. In this case, that big war chest Tlaib has might even end up playing against her by reminding constituents of her focus outside the district, along with the focus on Jones’ authenticity.
The fact that the NYT has picked up on this possibility suggests that a surprise Jones win is more than just a theoretical outcome. That makes the August 4th primary worth watching, and popcorn worth passing.