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Tlaib promises to deliver district for Biden, but hasn't endorsed him

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib attributed her victory in Tuesday's primary to her team's strong constituent services and overall hard work on the campaign trail — a political machine she plans to reactivate this fall to help send former Vice President Joe Biden to the White House.

Amid the pandemic, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, has resumed in-person campaigning and knocking doors in her bid for a second term, here at a food distribution event at Piquette Square in Detroit.

"We raised enough money to continue to do that. We had the plan from when I filed for reelection — I said, we do not stop in August. We continue forward because our residents can’t afford another four years of Donald Trump," the Detroit Democrat said in a Wednesday interview.

"We are going to continue on the turnout, which was up Tuesday, and I want to get that up even higher. I want to deliver Michigan for our nation and make sure the 13th District — we're not going to sit by on the sidelines."  

The outspoken freshman lawmaker — who issued a profane cry for Trump's impeachment on her first day in office — effectively won a second term after a bitterly fought rematch against Detroit Council President Brenda Jones, 66% to 34%, with 98% of precincts reporting Wednesday.

Michigan's 13th District, which includes parts of Detroit and Wayne County, is a Democratic stronghold where Tlaib is expected to win re-election handily this fall over Republican David Dudenhoefer. 

Asked about her supporters turning out, Tlaib touted the effectiveness of wellness checks that her campaign started doing with residents during the pandemic. The campaign helped to connect them with "everyday" resources ranging from diapers to child care, she said. 

"When we were going door to door and even at the polls people said, 'Your office called us back. Thank you. We appreciated that information.' Our resource guides we sent out on where you can get tested for free, where you can get food assistance — all of that," Tlaib said.

"We didn’t just talk. We actually showed them. We showed them what they get when we're representing them in Congress — through our actions, not just words."

Amid the pandemic, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, has resumed in-person campaigning and knocking doors in her bid for a second term, pictured on the campaign trail in Westland last month.

Jones had not called her to concede by Wednesday afternoon, but she said she hoped they could collaborate on priorities for Detroit's residents. 

"She is my council president, and I’m going to work with her. Because during this pandemic, that’s what my residents deserve," Tlaib said. "I'm going to put all that aside and make sure we're addressing poverty and we're addressing some of the issues that matter. 

"With the uprising and beautiful people in the streets, I want to work with her and make sure they're not being punished for speaking up — Black Lives Matter. I don't want us to become a city that needs to ask permission to protest."

The freshman lawmaker also wants to work with Jones to ban the use by police of controversial facial recognition software and ensure people are able to stay in their homes and avoid eviction during the economic strain caused by the pandemic. 

"There's so much that we could be doing right now together, and I hope she puts it all aside, and she actually can work with my team and I. We want to do right by our residents, and I hope she agrees." 

Jones' campaign did not comment Wednesday on the election results or respond to an interview request.

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones prays before the start of the rally in Highland Park in honor of George Floyd, a man who died last week while being arrested by Minneapolis police, Thursday, June 4, 2020.

Tlaib and Jones ran against one another in 2018, with Tlaib winning the seat by about 900 votes or 1 percentage point. Jones won a special election that year to finish out the last few weeks of the term of former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. 

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Tlaib is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. She had a message for her doubters in the national media that claimed she was the most vulnerable among the four progressive "squad" of freshman congresswoman of color.

"My community responded last night and said our Squad is big. It includes all who believe we must show up for each other and prioritize people over profits. It’s here to stay, and it’s only getting bigger," she tweeted. 

Tlaib said later she was referring to those like her running for office while eschewing corporate political action committee money and "putting people first."

She noted efforts in Congress to extend enhanced unemployment, another round of direct payments for families and aid for those unable to pay their rent or mortgage. 

Her agenda for her second term includes addressing discrimination in auto insurance rates, passing her anti-poverty BOOST Act, and a new civil rights bill that would allow victims to file discrimination lawsuits based on disparate impact to a class of people. 

Tlaib this cycle raised more than $3 million to Jones' $165,000. Detroit political consultant Mario Morrow said Jones was at a disadvantage against Tlaib in several ways.

“Incumbency is a very powerful thing. A lot of people like Rashida Tlaib and what she stands for — especially the gut and grits of the bullhorn, screaming ‘I’m with you’ type behavior,” he said. “It was going to be a hard task for Brenda Jones to overcome.”

Morrow added the traditional campaigning that Jones is accustomed to wasn’t possible with the pandemic.

“It didn’t exist. There was no door-to-door. There was no fundraising,” he said. “She couldn’t raise money. She couldn’t get in front of people.”

On the flip side, he noted, Tlaib and her team “didn’t let that stop them.”

“They were aggressive campaigning,” Morrow said. “The young progressives have a style and a formula that works in a campaign like this.”

He predicted Tlaib's vowing to turn out voters in Michigan for Biden would benefit the Democratic hopeful against Trump, who won Michigan in 2016 by 10,704 votes. Younger, progressive voters will be eager to follow Tlaib’s lead, he said.

“She has a following,” said Morrow, noting Tlaib was anti-Hillary Clinton and he argues it hurt Clinton’s efforts in Michigan in the last presidential race.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks to a crowd of 4,700 at the rally.

Many blamed Clinton's loss in Michigan in 2016 in part on weak turnout in Detroit, particularly among Black voters.

"I don’t know if Tlaib helping with turnout is a key to Biden improving on Clinton’s showing in Detroit. But if she is committed to helping Biden and puts resources into local turnout efforts, that’s something that could help Biden on the margins," said Kyle Kondik, an election analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics. 

Tlaib, who was a surrogate for Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in this year's presidential primary, hasn't endorsed Biden, saying she first needed to get through Tuesday's primary.

"I wanted to really focus on my residents and not respond to various positions he is taking. To me, that would have distracted us," she said. 

Tlaib has been in conversations with Biden's team for weeks, she said, but wants the former Delaware senator to come to her district and talk to residents about issues like water shutoffs and pollution — similar to visits made by former presidential hopefuls Sanders, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The possibility of a Biden visit to Michigan in the near future didn't seem likely as Democrats announced this week that he won't travel to Milwaukee later this month to accept his party's nomination. 

"I want him to come and do a 'Toxic Tour.' Talk to people experiencing water shutoffs. It would benefit him tremendously because Michigan is so important, and these are communities that, when they turn out for him, he wins," Tlaib said.

"He'll then understand why I fight so hard ... and he can see what doing nothing looks like." 

mburke@detroitnews.com