- The Washington Times
Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Republican candidate Alfred “Al” Lemmo sees an opening to take down “Squad” member Rep. Rashida Tlaib, arguing she’s on the outs with people in the Michigan district.

Mr. Lemmo, a retired mechanical engineer who did long stints working for the U.S. Army and Ford Motor Co., knows he’s a long shot, but he says he senses a shift in support away from Ms. Tlaib in the solid blue 13th Congressional District that includes parts of Detroit.

“We’ve got a terrible representative in Rashida Tlaib,” he told The Washington Times. “It’s my understanding that she has a very poor approval rating in the district, even among the African American community which is the majority of the district. They kind of drive the train in the district. And if they’re not with her, she’s vulnerable.”

The campaign’s internal polls, which were described to The Times, suggest support for Ms. Tlaib took a hit in recent weeks as she clashed with Detroit Police Chief James Craig, a Black American, over police use of facial-recognition technology.

“I think non-African Americans think African Americans all look the same,” said Ms. Tlaib, a Palestinian American.

Chief Craig called the remark “racist.”

Ed Sarpolus, founder and executive director of Target-Insyght and one of the most notable pollsters in Michigan, said the incident with the police chief is just a “blip on the screen” for Ms. Tlaib’s prospects.

“You have to earn the right in Detroit, you can’t just be on the ballot,” he said. “Rashida has done that — because remember she was an organizer for a number of years. So she’s very strong.”

Indeed, earlier polls commissioned by the Lemmo campaign show Ms. Tlaib with significant support, though not the overwhelming numbers expected for an incumbent Democrat in Detroit.

A recent survey by Big Data Poll showed about 61% of Black Democratic voters in the district somewhat or strongly approved of Ms. Tlaib, a freshman in her first reelection bout.

Overall, roughly 54% of Democratic voters in the district approved of her job performance in Congress, according to the poll.

Mr. Lemmo, who is a White man, has a steep climb to reach Congress. He needs to beat two Republican opponents — David Dudenhoefer and Linda Sawyer — in the Aug. 4 primary. Then he has to capture a seat that has been held by Democrats for about 70 years.

He said his work volunteering with the inner city neighborhoods of Detroit and surrounding areas helped him cultivate close relationships in the district and make him a viable candidate.

“I like the neighborhood I’m in and I like the people I got to know,” he said. “I’ve served every community I’ve been a part of.”

He works with his Catholic parish’s St. Vincent DePaul Society, a charitable outreach group working with low-income communities, and helps with a ministry group at the Wayne County Jail in Detroit.

After taking over the seat long held by the late John Conyers in 2018, Ms. Tlaib joined the Progressive Caucus, one of the largest voting blocs in the Democratic Party, and became one of the far-left freshman firebrands known as “The Squad,” which also includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

During her time in office, Ms. Tlaib has backed several far-left proposals, most recently rolling out a bill with Ms. Pressley that would defund police departments and provide reparations and universal basic income.

But she’s also faced waves of backlash stemming from controversial statements about President Trump — she once called for Congress to ‘impeach the [expletive]’ — and her support of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Before she can face off with any of Republican challengers, however, Ms. Tliab will have to stave off a primary challenge from Brenda Jones, who filled Conyers’ seat after his death but lost the election for a full term to Ms. Tlaib by a razor-thin margin.

Mr. Lemmo’s biggest issue and the one closest to his heart is abortion. He’s staunchly pro-life and has helped with protest campaigns across the country, and in 1988 he helped with the effort on a statewide referendum to end taxpayer-funded abortions in Michigan.

“The people who would have been destroyed but for that effort are in a very real sense my children,” he said. “They will never know my name. I will never know theirs. But they are very much my children.”

Ms. Tlaib is staunchly pro-choice as is the Democratic Party overall. Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois was one of the few pro-life Democrats in Congress and lost his seat in a reelection bid this year.

As for the pressing issues at the forefront of a brutal national election cycle — including the coronavirus pandemic and escalating racial tensions — Mr. Lemmo said it goes back to his volunteer roots and his ability to reach across philosophical divides.

“I believe in outreach,” he said.

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.