Wednesday, July 28, 2004

BOSTON — Arab-American delegates, attending the Democratic National Convention in their greatest numbers in years, say many in their community will vote for Sen. John Kerry because they are disillusioned with the current administration.

The Arab-American vote went overwhelmingly to George W. Bush in 2000, but unhappiness with the president’s post-September 11 policies is turning those voters to Mr. Kerry, the delegates say.

“He has alienated so many of us,” said Newman Abuissa, an Arab-American delegate from Iowa who voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 but became so upset at the administration that he began actively campaigning for the Massachusetts Democrat and eventually ended up here at the convention.

Arab-American “numbers this year look like they’ll be the exact opposite” from the 2000 election, said Taleb Salhab, a Florida delegate of Palestinian descent.

He said roughly 70 percent of Arab-Americans voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 and 30 percent voted for Al Gore, but said this time Mr. Kerry will garner the majority of votes, possibly enough to tip the scales in battleground states such as his own.

There are 46 Arab-American delegates at the Democratic convention this year, the highest number since the 1988 convention, said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

Mr. Zogby has been tracking the views of Arab-Americans in the key states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania for the past several months. In his latest poll, taken July 9 to 11, support for Mr. Bush among Arab-Americans was at a low of 24.5 percent, and support for Mr. Kerry was 54 percent.

However, Mr. Kerry’s support is somewhat softer than Mr. Bush’s support.

Less than 40 percent of Mr. Kerry’s Arab-American voters say they are supporting him because they like his positions, party, or like him as a person, and more than 50 percent of his supporters are anti-Bush, Mr. Zogby said.

Many Arab-Americans see themselves as unfairly singled out by the Bush administration in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They also disagree with the Iraq war and feel Mr. Bush has not been evenhanded in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ferial Masry, a delegate who is originally from Saudi Arabia and is also running for the California state assembly, said she has seen that shift in the Arab-American community.

“Anybody but Bush,” is the theme she hears, said the high-school government teacher who strongly opposed the war in Iraq.

And Mr. Salhab, who heads the Florida Arab American Leadership Council, said that while Mr. Kerry “has yet to articulate clear positions” on issues that hit hard in the Arab-American community, there is a “strong anti-Bush sentiment.”

Mr. Salhab and three other Arab-Americans from Florida became Democratic delegates after a massive grass-roots effort that bused many Arab-Americans to district caucus sites.

Mr. Abuissa — who emigrated from Syria, became a U.S. citizen 12 years ago and works for the Iowa State Transportation Department — said former Democratic presidential candidates Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Vermont governor Howard Dean closely match his own strong antiwar views.

But he said the Kerry-Edwards team is “a strong ticket,” and Mr. Kerry “is the man for us.”

Others said that instead of voting for Mr. Kerry, older Arab-Americans who voted for Mr. Bush last time may simply just sit out this election.

“Younger Arab-Americans will make a shift … the older generation in my opinion will probably abstain or vote Republican,” said Claudia Baba, a delegate of Palestinian descent, who came to the convention from Texas as a member of the convention’s standing committee on credentials.

Her father donated to Mr. Bush’s 2000 campaign but probably won’t support him this time because he feels Mr. Bush hasn’t supported Palestinians in the Middle East.

Ms. Baba — who was asked by the Arab American Institute to attend the convention after the Kerry campaign specifically requested an Arab-American woman from Texas — initially favored Mr. Dean, but, like Mr. Abuissa, became convinced that Mr. Kerry was the man who could win.

Mr. Zogby said Arab-Americans think like all Americans when it comes to concern for the economy, health care and education, but simply have a stronger emphasis than others on foreign policy and civil rights issues.

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