There’s a rising star in the Ohio Democratic Party whose goal is to “empower” Somali refugees in the Buckeye state similar to the way they have been empowered in Minnesota.
Democrats in Minnesota have adopted the Somali refugee community, supporting Somali Muslims who have been elected to various city councils, to the state legislature, and most recently the nomination for a seat in Congress.
Meet Ismail Mohamed, 26, of Columbus. His goal is to replicate the Minnesota political success of Muslim candidates in Ohio.
Mohamed is possibly the first Somalia-born Ohioan to have graduated from law school, having earned his law degree last year from Ohio State University, and he has been described in an interview with Columbus Alive as not only a rising star in the Democratic Party but an emerging voice in Ohio politics in general.
So if you haven’t heard of him yet, you will. His coming-out party consisted of a race for state representative for the legislature’s 25th district. He lost that race but turned heads by winning 40 percent of the vote. Given the broad appeal of Muslim candidates within the Democratic Party in 2018 – there have been more than 90 running for various public offices nationwide – Mohamed could end up being the face of Somali political activism in Ohio for years to come.
Columbus Alive reports:
As a result of his strong showing in the polls, Mohamed was made an official consultant to the Democratic Party of Columbus, helping Democrats reach out to immigrants who have recently acquired U.S. citizenship. It’s a huge shift from a year ago, when Mohamed could not convince anyone in the Democratic Party to take him seriously, let alone return his phone calls.”
Mohamed attributes his success directly to his ability to mobilize voters and funds entirely from the Somali community. He reportedly raised about $35,000 for his campaign, all of it from the Somali community in Columbus.
He was also not afraid to couch his campaign in religious terms, often using imams or religious Muslims to pitch his candidacy.
Here he is (second from the left) in a video speaking directly to the Somali community through a Muslim cleric:
As the video shows, no English was spoken in the pitch for support for Mohamed’s candidacy leading up to the May primary.
Mohamed reportedly spent the $35,000 on mailers and ads, mainly in the Somali language targeting Columbus’s growing community of Somali refugees.
“My campaign and the way I ran it got a lot of Democrats to wake up and say, ‘We need to take this Somali community seriously,’” Mohamed said. “I mean, it’s not like we are a small community.”
Watch Mohamed below in another video, again, speaking in Somali at a political rally in Columbus:
At one point in the video above, a young man walks up to the podium and breaks out in an Islamic prayer chant in Arabic, reciting verses from the Quran.
According to a native Arabic speaker who translated the chant for The Ohio Star, the recitation is from Quran Chapter 49:5-12.
Separation of church and state is not something valued in Somalia the way it is in the United States, so it should not be a shock that Somali refugees who come to America would not suddenly adopt American values, said Ann Corcoran, a watchdog who has been following the refugee industry at Refugee Resettlement Watch for the last 12 years.
“Watching some of Mr. Mohamed’s outreach meetings in Ohio, it could have just as easily been a political rally in Mogadishu,” Corcoran told The Star. “There was not even an interpreter in the room who could translate what the candidate was saying into English, presumably because there were no native-English speakers present at the rally.”
Reliable figures for Somali refugees in Columbus, just like in Minneapolis, are difficult to find. But most agree that the U.S. Census figures are grossly undercounted. Somalis have been arriving in Columbus since the early 1990s, most of them from United Nations refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Mohamed told Columbus Alive that he estimates the community to be around 40,000 to 50,000, making Columbus the second-most-populous home for Somalis in the U.S. Only Minnesota, with an estimated 100,000 Somalis clustered mostly in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area, has more refugees from Somalia.
Mohamed estimates there are “at least 10,000 Somali voters” in Columbus and “around 60 percent of them vote, maybe even higher during a presidential year.”
‘All vote Democratic’
Now here’s the kicker. Of those registered Somali-American voters, Mohamed noted that “all vote Democratic, except for a super tiny number of Republican Somali voters.”
The significance of a voting bloc that votes this reliably for one party cannot be overestimated. Somalis were widely credited with helping Al Franken win a recount election to the U.S. Senate in 2008 over Republican Norm Coleman. Franken won that election by a mere 312 votes and went on to cast a critical vote in favor of Obamacare.
So this may be a harbinger of the Democratic Party’s future road map in turning Ohio into a solid blue state.
According to U.S. State Department data, Ohio was the third most welcoming state for refugees in fiscal-year 2018, which ended Oct. 1. A total of 1,406 refugees arrived in Ohio over the 12-month period. Only two states, Texas and Washington, took in more refugees.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich recently told a group in Washington, D.C., that if they didn’t like immigrants “send them to Ohio.”
Due to President Trump’s implementation of “extreme vetting,” however, fewer refugees are coming into the U.S. from Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and other broken countries from which little background data is available from law enforcement agencies. As a result, only 14 Somalis made it to Ohio in fiscal 2018, compared to 425 in fiscal 2017 and 690 in fiscal 2016 under President Obama.
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Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star.
Image “Ismail Mohamed” by facebook.com/Ismail4staterep.