race to watch

Detroit City Council president Brenda Jones narrows gap with Rashida Tlaib in new MI-13 poll

Tlaib’s lead shrunk by 28 percentage points, but is still ahead of Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones

Carlos Osorio/AP

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who is challenging Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) in the Democratic primary in Michigan’s 13th congressional district, gained on her opponent in a poll released Friday, just days after announcing her run last week, but still trails Tlaib by a significant margin.

The results: The poll of 500 registered voters, from Michigan pollster and political consultant Ed Sarpolus of Target-Insyght, found Tlaib leading Jones 43% to 34% in a head-to-head matchup. This represents a massive gain for Jones after the last poll, taken in June 2019, which found Tlaib ahead 56% to Jones’s 19%.

Details: Tlaib saw bigger losses in Detroit — where Jones has more name recognition — than in other areas of the district. She did not fare well among male voters — losing 25 percentage points since June among male voters, compared to just 6 percentage points with female voters. Tlaib also remained ahead among older voters — a critical demographic with generally higher turnout. Tlaib’s favorability ratings, however, remain 10 percentage points higher than Jones’s.

Another challenger? According to Sarpolus, the poll shows that a candidate with more popularity, name recognition, support outside of Detroit and a built-in fundraising machine could beat Tlaib. If a stronger candidate entered the race, he suggested, they would likely pick up many of Jones’ current supporters. Most of the other potential candidates, who come with the resources and support necessary to beat Tlaib — like Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon — have already said they’re not running, Sarpolus said. 

Jones faces large hurdles: Jones enters the race with little money in her coffers, compared to Tlaib’s $1.6 million war chest, and lower name recognition across the district than her opponent. Jones would need to launch an aggressive fundraising and outreach campaign, which will be very difficult amid social distancing guidelines, Sarpolus said. Attention from major Democratic fundraisers and organizers is directed elsewhere amid the pandemic, he added.

Ties to Farrakhan: Jones has previously expressed praise for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has been frequently criticized as an anti-Semite. When Farrakhan addressed the Detroit City Council in 2014, Jones said at the time that he offered “awesome words.” When Farrakhan spoke in Detroit earlier this year, Jones issued a statement that she was “so excited” to welcome Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam to the city. And at a speech in Oct. 2018, which Jones attended, Farrakhan singled her out for praise and applause from the audience.

Stephen Grady, Jones’ chief of staff in the city council’s office, spoke at an event featuring Farrakhan in Detroit in March, telling the crowd that Jones supports the Nation of Islam. He also said in separate remarks at the same event that Jones sponsored a resolution praising The Final Call, the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, for its “truthful reporting and “courageous journalists,” according to the ADL. The newspaper also publishes antisemitic and racist content.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment.

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