Des Moines — Iowans shocked the foundation of the Democratic Party Thursday night when Illinois Senator Barack Obama placed first in the Iowa caucuses among the Democratic candidates. I had traveled with friends to Iowa to experience the last minute campaigning and the legendary Iowa Democratic caucus process which, by all accounts, is unique and fascinating because of its highly transparent and interactive nature. The participation level was higher than ever across the 1,781 Democratic caucus sites as the three major Democratic presidential candidates waged the most intense voter mobilization efforts in the history of the process. The Associated Press (AP) reported that over half of the Democratic caucus goers were attending their first caucus ever. Their exit polling showed that 1 in 5 caucus goers were under the age of 30, nearly double the usual proportion. These groups apparently gave Senator Obama the majority of their votes and delivered his resounding victory.The caucus was as intense as expected, with over 550 Iowans crowding into our site alone. They take this sport seriously. The people of Iowa, young and old, black and white, packed the room for their candidates. As we entered the Middle School gymnasium we hid our press credentials and sat on the bleachers between supporters of former North Carolina Senator John Edwards and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.I was immediately taken aback at the festive attitude in the room, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons sat together in their respective sections as though they were a crowd awaiting the start of a basketball contest, except in this sport, they were the players. The caucus goers each proudly raised their hands as they were counted out, one by one, to determine the total number of caucus goers. When the number was determined, the caucus attendees separated into preference groups and were counted again. The supporters of second tier, non-viable candidates (those garnering less than 15% support in the room initially) were given 30 minutes to choose a viable candidate. Obama’s support in our caucus location was overwhelming from start to finish. He ended the night garnering a hefty 52% of the vote at our site. The Obama crowd was massive and intense, with a clear sense of hope among the many young, obviously inspired activists.The final results were disappointing for New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who finished third, garnering 29% to former North Carolina Senator John Edwards’ 30% and Obama’s 38%. None of the other candidates were viable.After the results were apparent, Obama told the massive crowd of celebrating supporters “you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do… to end the political strategy based on division in favor of addition… we are choosing hope over fear, unity over division, and sending a powerful message of hope that change is coming to America… Our destiny will not be written for us but by us.” Clinton and Edwards vowed to continue, Clinton still touting her experience and Edwards insisting it was now a two-way race between him and Obama for the change candidate that Democrats crave.Arab Americans were engaged in the Democratic process and were being coordinated by activists from Iowa’s Arab American and Muslim communities. Numan Abu Essa of Iowa City led the Obama campaign as the precinct captain for Iowa City Precinct #22, which Obama won by a large margin. Numan is a proud Arab American and his many efforts to expand the reach of Obama’s campaign included organizing in the historic mosque in Cedar Rapids, as well as conducting outreach to the supporters of the campaigns of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Governor Bill Richardson and the progressive peace organizations in the region. Abu Essa went into the caucus night confident and was anxious afterwards. “We think this will give him a great boost going into New Hampshire and beyond,” he said of the successful Obama campaign he had played a big role in. His passion for the campaign was on display when he served baklava, the traditional Arab pastry, as “Baracklava” at his caucus site.Sixty-five year old Arab American Bill Aoussey, who was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, played a major role in the Iowa caucuses and helped organize political action for members of the Cedar Rapids mosque. He said that he and others were working with Delaware Senator Joe Biden and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to attempt to help them become viable, but their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. Aoussey insisted that the media had been unfair to so-called second-tier candidates in denying them the exposure they needed to get their message out. Aoussey claims to be the first Muslim to have joined the Peace Corps and has visited over 90 countries. He believed either Biden or Richardson would have been the best choice because of their experience in diplomacy. Biden announced his withdrawal from the race soon after the caucus results were announced Thursday night. Dodd later withdrew.Sam Rasoul, a Democratic candidate for congress in the 6th district of Virginia, correctly predicted the results of the Democratic caucus. “It is not the most popular that will win, in this case Hillary Clinton. Either you like her or not, she won’t garner much more support,” said Rasoul before the caucus. Afterwards, Rasoul was surprised that Obama won by 9% over Clinton, and indicated he thought the Iowa results would be replicated across the nation.Several young Michigan Arab Americans are supporting the Republican presidential primary campaign of Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Michael Chami, an Arab American independent who traveled to Iowa for the caucus, was inspired by the congressman’s voting record, including voting against the defense authorization bill in Iraq, the Patriot Act of 2001 and the Military Commission Act of 2006. “Ron Paul believes we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our freedom for security; he is the most vocal of the candidates on the civil liberties we have lost since 9/11,” said Chami, who is a 19 yr. old sophomore at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Lillian Kishek, a 22 yr. old law student at Wayne State University, is also supporting Paul because “his foreign policy appeals to me.” That reflects a strong opinion held by many Arab Americans in favor of a non-interventionist foreign policy after eight years of the Bush administration’s disastrous approach. Ron Paul placed 5th with 10% of the vote total, just behind Arizona Senator John McCain and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, both at 13%. His appeal to Arab Americans is largely based on a pro-civil rights and non-interventionist foreign policy platform.Arab Americans will continue to play an increasingly visible role in presidential primary campaigns, especially on the Democratic side. The majority of Arab Americans are simply fed up with the Bush administration and Republican performance on issues ranging from the economy to civil liberties and foreign policy. Although I deeply admired the Iowans and their approach to the contact sport that is the Iowa caucuses, I couldn’t help wondering — will we in Michigan ever get a chance to have such an impact?Ahmad Wahab contributed to this report.
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