Could Durham provide the next member of AOC’s ‘Squad’?
North Carolina’s 4th U.S. Congressional District is a near-certain win for Democrats, but which Triangle-area Democrat will be replacing the retiring U.S. Rep. David Price, who began representing the area in Congress in 1987, is yet to be decided. The candidate really locking down the progressive wing of the party, though, appears to be Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam. And in the most left-leaning district in the state, this may make the difference.
On April 8, progressive champion Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted an endorsement for Allam, saying, “@NidaAllam is the first Muslim woman elected to office in North Carolina. She’s delivered real change—like a $15 minimum wage for county workers and property tax relief that helped families stay in their homes during the pandemic. I’m happy to endorse her for Congress in #NC04.”
Allam responded by saying, “Senator @ewarren knows what it takes to challenge the status quo & deliver for working families. I’m so honored to have her endorsement, and I can’t wait to stand united against big corporations and bring home real change for the people of North Carolina! #ABrighterFuture”
The same day, another national progressive leader, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, also endorsed Allam. Other notable endorsements she has received up to this point include U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Talib of Michigan, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, local Durham progressives like city councilmembers Jillian Johnson and Javiera Caballero and county commissioner Wendy Jacobs, and left-wing organizers like Carolina Forward and the Durham People’s Alliance.
But while the far-left of the party and its local and national leaders seem to be sold on Allam, the race is far from over. The day before Warren’s endorsement, Clay Akien of American Idol and Celebrity Apprentice fame announced that his 1st Quarter fundraising numbers broke records for the district, at $440,000. Allam had been leading up to that point, though, and her reported $370,000 for the quarter was not far behind.
But the biggest challenge to Allam will likely be state Sen. Valerie Foushee. Foushee was the first African-American woman to be an Orange County commissioner. She then went on to serve in the state House and now state Senate. She has a lot of the more establishment support behind her, especially in Orange County, including the current mayors of Hillsborough and Chapel Hill and the incoming mayor of Carrboro. Foushee also has the support of prominent Democrats from outside the district, like Attorney General Josh Stein and outgoing 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield, as well as major Democrat backers like the N.C. AFL-CIO and Emily’s List.
Her fundraising numbers, however, are lagging behind Allam and Aiken, with only $133,020 cash-on-hand as the year started. Foushee has not announced her first quarter numbers for 2020, though.
Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst for the John Locke Foundation, said it will all come down to what voters in the 4th District want.
“Do they want an African-American woman who put forward a consistent record in local government and the state Senate?” he said. “Do they want someone from Durham who is a Muslim woman who might fit in well with the Squad? Or do they want this American Idol, Celebrity Apprentice guy who can bring in a different celebrity factor?”
Allam’s association to the “Squad,” a controversial grouping of far-left younger members of Congress led by New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who are often accused of having openly socialist and anti-Semitic views, is not just conjecture. Two of the endorsements mentioned above, Omar and Talib, are “members” of the Squad.
Omar, often accused of anti-Semitism herself, tweeted her support of Allam the same day Allam announced her campaign, saying, “Let’s go Nida.” Two days later, Jewish Insider published an extensive report detailing Allam’s alleged “long history of anti-Israel activism.”
In the article, they cite her support for Omar, her participation in anti-Israel protests in the Triangle area where controversial slogans were chanted, her call for Durham to cease any cooperation with Israeli police, and calling the U.S. “the United States of Israel.”
But Allam, to her credit, has apologized to the Jewish community for these past controversies and, while still identifying with the Palestinian cause, says she will be more careful with potentially inflammatory language.
“In the past, I regrettably and unintentionally invoked anti-Semitic tropes in a tweet attempting to call attention to the United States’ withdrawal of humanitarian aid from the Palestinian people,” Allam wrote in Indy Week in late 2021. “In another instance, I attended and livestreamed a protest at which destructive and anti-Semitic language, which I do not condone, was used by some of the protesters present. For my tweet and lack of sensitivity to what was captured and then posted in my personal livestream of that protest, I deeply apologize. I stand by the urgent need to end Israel’s illegal, violent occupation of the Palestinian people. But the movement to end the occupation, secure a lasting and peaceful resolution with Israel, and defend the human rights of everyone living in the region is a movement for justice and peace, in which anti-Semitism must have no home.”
In addition to receiving the Squad endorsements, Allam would also fit in with the group in that she is only 28 years old, and Squad members are about 20 years younger on average than the typical congressperson. In addition, Allam’s platform states that she is in favor of Medicare for all and the Green New Deal, the two signature parts of the Squad’s policy agenda.
One commonality among districts that have sent a “Squad” member to Congress is that each member comes from a district that rates D+25 or more on the Cook Partisan Voting Index. District 4 in North Carolina fits the profile, with a 33-point advantage for the Democrats, according to data from the General Assembly analyzing the new districts.