Have Cook County voters evolved to the point where they would be willing to elect an Arab-American Muslim with the first name of Abdelnasser to a suburban county board seat?
My guess would have been no, prejudices still being what they are.
But a new poll taken for Democrat Abdelnasser Rashid shows him with a tiny lead among likely voters, 37-36, in a neck-and-neck race against Commissioner Sean Morrison, the Republican incumbent who also serves as GOP county chairman.
All polls should be viewed with skepticism, and that’s particularly true of polls taken for any particular candidate’s campaign.
But, at the very least, the results indicate a serious contest is shaping up in the 17th District, one of only four county board seats still in Republican hands.
Rashid’s take is that, while his ethnicity and religion might pose obstacles with some voters, the poll shows it’s hardly insurmountable.
“When I communicate who I am and what I stand for, they’re going to vote for me,” said Rashid, a Chicago born and raised, Harvard-educated son of Palestinian immigrants who likes to talk about how the “middle class has been shafted.”
Rashid says his name should prove no more a barrier to election than it was for former President Barack Obama or U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi.
Rashid, 29, cut his political teeth on Obama’s 2008 campaign and parlayed that into important organizer roles in Chuy Garcia’s 2015 mayoral campaign, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in Illinois and, most recently, Fritz Kaegi’s victory over Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.
Between campaigns, he’s worked for the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights and as deputy chief of staff to County Clerk David Orr.
Rashid and his wife Fidaa a lawyer, live in Justice with their two daughters, ages 1 and 3.
Rashid thinks his background presents a favorable contrast with Morrison, who was appointed in 2015 to represent the 17th, which wraps around the western edge of the county, from Des Plaines to Tinley Park.
Although designed to be a Republican district after the last census, it now tilts Democratic. Hillary Clinton carried the general election there in 2016, and, according to the poll, President Donald Trump is viewed unfavorably by 54 percent of the district’s voters. Morrison, a security company owner from Palos Park, remains one of Trump’s biggest local supporters.
Rashid’s strong showing in the poll would appear to be more a measure of party identification than personal popularity, as both he and Morrison remain largely unknown to voters.
When first asked whether they would vote for the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate for county commissioner (with no names mentioned), poll respondents showed a 41 percent-32 percent preference for the Democrat. That margin grew to 47-37 when those leaning toward one or the other were added.
When a subsequent question added the candidates’ names to their party affiliation, Rashid’s advantage slipped to 37-36, or 42-39 counting voters leaning toward one candidate or another.
Those results did not change appreciably after respondents were read what I found to be an even-handed presentation of positive and negative information about the candidates.
The poll of 400 likely voters, conducted by San Francisco-based Tulchin Research in late July, was paid for by the Cook County Democratic Party, chaired by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Rashid, who is called Nas (rhymes with Boz) by some of his friends, said he rejected suggestions he modify his name for ballot purposes.
He is open about being active in the Muslim community. Growing up in Ukrainian Village, Rashid attended the Universal School, a private Islamic school in Bridgeview.
Most of his campaign-finance support has come from Arab businessmen, and Rashid said he expects to face political attacks based on his associations with Islamic leaders.
According to his poll, Rashid has an even chance of winning. At this stage of a campaign, there’s not much more any candidate could ask.