A Muslim Democrat running for a Nevada seat in the U.S. House of Representatives apparently received some stunning advice during a private meeting with retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid: “You should not run for this office” because “a Muslim cannot win this race.”
According to an article by David Farenthold, who covers Congress for the Washington Post, Jesse Sbaih -- an immigrant from Jordan who is now a trial lawyer -- was seeking Reid's support in his first run for political office in a district that includes a swath of suburban Las Vegas.
The candidate stated that he wanted the minority leader's blessing, which is “a key factor in Nevada, where Reid is the unquestioned power broker of Democratic politics,” the Post reporter noted. “But Reid would not give it,” Sbaih said, and “cited his religion as one reason why.”
“I did not feel that this was an issue,” Sbaih explained. “My campaign is about me being an American.”
The candidate said he had never faced this kind of opposition before: “I just turned 40. Been in this country for 29 years. And it’s just absolutely shocking that this occurred.”
Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman for the minority leader, “confirmed that the meeting took place,” Farenthold noted. “However, she categorically denied” that the retiring senator “had said those words” or “cited Sbaih’s religion as a reason he would not succeed.”
The Muslim candidate's assertion “could shake up one of the most competitive House races in the country -- a race made possible, in a way, by Reid himself” since after 30 years in the Senate, he is retiring at the end of his current term.
Republican Representative Joe Heck, “who holds the suburban Las Vegas seat now, is running to replace Reid, which has left that seat open,” Farenthold explained. “The Cook Political Report rates it as a 'Republican toss-up,' a swing seat vital to both parties.”
“On the Republican side, several plausible candidates have already filed to run,” the reporter stated, but on the Democratic side, "the race was slow to start. Late in the summer, Sbaih was the best-funded and best-known candidate who had declared.”
The candidate's parents “immigrated from Jordan to Virginia” when he was 11 years old, and “he helped support the family by washing dishes in an Italian restaurant as a teen.”
“Now, his run for office is a way to repay the country for the way it welcomed his family,” the reporter stated before quoting Sbaih as saying: “I’ve always felt the more America gave me, the more I wanted to give back.”
First, Farenthold said, “he met with a political consultant connected to Reid -- Rebecca Lambe -- at a coffee shop.” During that conversation, “Lambe brought up his religion and his Arab heritage. She said, basically, you’re gonna have a problem winning as a Muslim, as an Arab.”
“It’s not what I said,” Lambe responded. “As we would with any candidate, we explored his background, profession, religion, the fact he’d never run before, stance on issues and limited support … to more fully understand the path and potential attacks from the other side.”
“To bolster his account, Sbaih supplied both emails and text messages from the time, in which he tells another Reid ally that he is 'profoundly disheartened and saddened that the Democratic Party is refusing to accept a candidate like me because of my religion and ethnicity.'”
In the exchanges provided by Sbaih, however, “Reid’s allies do not say explicitly that Sbaih’s race or religion is a hindrance, nor do they confirm that Reid himself had said so.”
“We never said he shouldn’t run for elected office,” Orthman said. “It was that, to run for a congressional seat your first time, you’re going to lose. And you need more experience.”
“A few weeks later, Sbaih said, an aide in Reid’s Senate office offered him a chance to apply for a position on the Election Assistance Commission -- a federal job,” the reporter noted, but “Sbaih said he declined.”
The Mormon Democrat “is still in the House race, but now is facing competition from another Democrat: Jacky Rosen,” the president of a Las Vegas-area synagogue “who is also making her first run for office.”
“She was recruited by Reid himself,” according to Jon Ralston, Nevada’s best-known political reporter.
“She’s been a community leader for years here,” Orthman said, explaining why Reid had recruited a political novice after criticizing Sbaih for his own lack of experience. “Jesse’s new to the scene.”
The possible double standard Reid employed when backing one first-time candidate over another was enough to interest the Washington Post, but will any of the national TV news outlets report on this story? Only time will tell.