Newman Abuissa has never run for a political position before, other than lobbying fellow Democrats to serve as a convention delegate during the 2004 presidential election.
But a lack of political chops is part of the appeal of his unconventional candidacy to represent Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, Abuissa said.
“I am a grassroots candidate,” Abuissa, 58, told Starting Line. “I think there’s a need for dialogue and debate, and I think it’s important that we do that in a democratic country and try to be a model for the rest of the globe.”
He was undeterred by the fact Rita Hart, a former state senator and 2018 candidate for lieutenant governor, already has garnered support from the national Democratic Party and activists across Iowa.
So far, Thomas Kedley, the mayor of Osceola, is the only Republican in the race to replace outgoing Democratic congressman Dave Loebsack.
Abuissa, an engineer at the Iowa Department of Transportation in Iowa City, said the nation’s “crumbling” infrastructure was one of many issues motivating him to run for public office.
“I see myself as a builder,” he said. “I am not a lawyer or a politician. I think we can do better in this country, with the work, with the cooperation of all, we can do better.”
Born in Damascus, Syria, Abuissa became a U.S. citizen 25 years ago and now has a family here.
Abuissa called America “the best country in the world,” but thought its status as a superpower was “deteriorating” due to a combative relationship with allies, “neglecting our treaties” and “support for dictatorships” around the world.
The current political environment, exacerbated by Republican President Donald Trump, created a “fear of immigrants,” he said.
“I think there is a need for an immigrant to show Iowans that we are part of the fabric of the society,” Abuissa said. “We contribute to the society in many different ways, at multiple levels, and it’s important to see an immigrant running for office.”
At a time when the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives is more diverse than ever, Abuissa’s candidacy isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it might have been in past cycles.
Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar in 2018 became the first Somali-American elected to Congress. She came to the U.S. in 1992 after living for several years in a Kenyan refugee camp.
“I value the opportunity here to allow me to do it,” Abuissa said, of running for office. “In many other countries with dictatorships, it’s not possible.”
Abuissa said he planned to campaign in all 24 counties in the 2nd District, advocating for a nationwide infrastructure program, health care coverage for all Americans, a top-notch educational system and a solution to students’ crippling loan debt.
“There are many issues we need (to fix) in this country to function at our best,” he said.
by Elizabeth Meyer