Editor’s Note: Our coverage of Fayrouz Saad is part of Running Women, a project following 15 compelling women candidates for U.S. political offices in 2018. Read the latest on her campaign below.
Fayrouz Saad is a former Obama administration official and first-generation American running to represent Michigan’s 11th District in the U.S. House. If she wins her highly competitive race, the Democrat and daughter of Lebanese immigrants would become the first Muslim-American woman in Congress.
Saad is fighting hard to try to flip a red seat blue. A seasoned public servant, she entered the race in July 2017 after becoming convinced that Republican incumbent Rep. David Trott was vulnerable — and just before he dropped out of the race. In April, one of Trott’s aides was caught on a “hot mic” calling angry constituents at at a town hall meeting “un-American,” causing an uproar. Then in September, Trott announced he would not seek re-election. His exit opened the door to a slew of Democratic and Republican candidates. Now, the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball call the race a “toss-up,” although Inside Elections still rates it “lean Republican.”
Saad, who lives in the Detroit suburb of Northville with her husband, an employee of Ford Motor Co., must first win the Democratic primary on August 7. Her opponents are lawyer Dan Haberman, businessman Suneel Gupta, State Rep. Tim Greimel and Haley Stevens, who also served in the Obama administration. Republican primary candidates include Kerry Bentivolio, who formerly held the district’s seat in Congress; former Michigan Trump campaign co-chair Lena Epstein; Kristine Bonds, the daughter of a former TV anchor; former state Reps. Kurt Heise and Rocky Raczkowski, and State Rep. Klint Kesto. (We’re also following Stevens and Epstein’s candidacies this year.)
Michigan’s 11th District is one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s initial targets to flip in 2018, which means that the winner of the Democratic primary is likely to receive funding and support from the committee, heating up the race and making it more expensive. Saad’s campaign has raised $515,000 as of March. 31, making her the five-person Democratic field’s fourth highest fundraiser.
Related: Emerge America is Embracing a 50-State Strategy
Saad was raised by Lebanese immigrants in the heavily Arab-American city of Dearborn, Mich. Her parents opened a small business in Detroit’s Eastern Market, instilling in her a belief in the “American Dream” and a fierce drive and determination. That drive has powered her through multiple marathons and half-marathons and should help her withstand the rigors of a long political race.
Saad received an undergraduate degree in political science and psychology from the University of Michigan and went on to earn a master’s in public administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
She then pursued a career in public service, working as a field organizer for John Kerry’s presidential campaign in the 11th District and as an aide to State Rep. Gino Polidori. After President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, she went to Washington, D.C., as an appointee at the Department of Homeland Security, where she worked on community policing efforts to fight against terrorism and on protecting critical infrastructure and strengthening cybersecurity. Saad also helped coordinate the department’s emergency response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Saad returned to Michigan in 2015 to become the first director of Detroit’s Office of Immigrant Affairs under Mayor Mike Duggan. She also helped launch and served as the board chair of Engage-USA MI, an organization that fosters civic and electoral participation within the Muslim-American community.
“I’ve worked at the state level, federal level, local level. And then, of course, I was in the Emerge [candidate] training program. So running for office was always something I guess I saw in my future potentially,” she told The Story Exchange on the sidelines of the Women’s Convention in Detroit in late October. But it was the 2016 elections that finally pushed her to run, she said. “There is a lack of progressives in Congress, a lack of diversity in Congress, and a void in diverse views, opinions and people who are ready to fight.”
The Latest on the Campaign
August 8, 2018:
Women To Dominate Democratic General Election Line-Up in Michigan
Women are winning primaries in record-breaking numbers nationwide. So too in Michigan, where women’s victories will result in a near female monopoly on the Democratic side of the November ballot for key offices. In the 11th Congressional District, two women candidates we’ve been watching will face off in the general election, Haley Stevens for the Democrats and Lena Epstein for the Republicans. Fayrouz Saad came in fourth in a crowded Democratic field. Read the full story.
July 17, 2018:
Will Voters Favor Women Who Fight Sexual Harassment? Candidates in Michigan Will Find Out
In Michigan’s 11th Congressional District, Fayrouz Saad is focusing more on #MeToo than rivals Haley Stevens and Lena Epstein and speaking out about sexual harassment. Read the full story.
June 11, 2018:
Saad Calls for More Spending on Mental Health
Fayrouz Saad made an emotional appeal for increasing government spending on mental health and combatting depression, recounting her own costly experience trying to help a loved one in trouble.
She nodded to the tragic suicides of chef Anthony Bourdain and apparel entrepreneur Kate Spade in a post on Facebook, saying: “The recent celebrity deaths have drawn attention to this issue — but we are still not talking about the actual problem. Suicide is not the problem — it’s a lack of understanding and adequate funding for mental health.”
Saad called for the restoration of funding for federal programs targeted for cuts by the White House. In February, President Donald Trump released a fiscal year 2019 budget including a 21 percent cut in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services. While $1 million would be added to Children’s Mental Health and Services programs, overall in 2019, mental health programs will receive less funding than in past years. For instance, the proposed budget would cut funding for the National Institute of Mental Health by 30 percent.
January 25, 2018:
Running Women Q&A: Fayrouz Saad on Why She’s Running for Congress and How She’ll Win
We sat down with Michigan Democrat Fayrouz Saad to talk about her decision to run for Congress, awkward asks for money, getting candidate training from Emerge America and her strategy for winning a hotly contested swing seat. Read the interview highlights.