Political newcomer Abdul El-Sayed, seeking this year's Democratic nomination for governor, expected rough stuff during the campaign.
"But here's something we didn't expect," his communications director writes Tuesday in a hastily emailed letter to backers and others on a contact list. "Establishment Democrats [are] resorting to the type of birther tactics that opponents to Barack Obama used to discredit his run for the presidency," says the letterhead message -- part damage control and part fund-raising appeal.
The email blast is a response to a Bridge magazine article that says El-Sayed may not meet the requirement of being a "registered elector in this state" for four years before November's vote. That's "completely baseless," the letter says. (Details from the article are in the original version of this article below.)
The candidate himself uses the same hot-button phrase in a six-tweet thread. "Establishment Democratic insiders . . . [are] resorting to the kinds of Trump birther tactics that the GOP used against @BarackObama. It’s really heartbreaking," posts El-Sayed, who claims unnamed party opponents "feel so threatened by my run."
Trump challenged Obama's legitimacy by claiming he's not American-born. Though El-Sayed doesn't get specific, former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer is an implied target as his main nomination rival in polls, fundraising and media attention.
"When you start gaining momentum, that's when they pounce," writes Adam Joseph in the "urgent" appeal for donations "to send a message that our movement will not be bullied." He says, pointedly:
"An article just released last night is using birther-like tactics pushed by our opponent to try to smear Abdul's run for governor. . . .
"Let's show the world that we've got . . . the numbers to win against the power and money of establishment party politics."
A longtime Lansing political consultant, Joe DiSano, derides the campaign's response. "Comparing this valid legal point to birtherism is downright irresponsible," he posts Tuesday on social media.
Update, Wednesday afternoon: A Detroit News politics reporter tweets:
In statement released by campaign, former Federal Election Commission Chairman Robert Lenhard says El-Sayed eligiblity concerns unfounded and "just a red herring"— Jonathan Oosting (@jonathanoosting) January 31, 2018
Establishment Democratic insiders . . . [are] resorting to . . . Trump birther tactics."
Original article, Tuesday morning:
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a Democratic candidate for governor and former chief of Detroit's Health Department, may be ineligible for this year's ballot, Bridge Magazine reports:
A key chapter in that narrative, a professorship at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York, may threaten El-Sayed’s ability to make it onto the the Aug. 7 primary ballot, where polls indicate he is the most credible challenger to Democratic front-runner Gretchen Whitmer.
That’s because the Michigan Constitution requires gubernatorial candidates be a “registered elector in this state” for four years before the general election – and El-Sayed was registered to vote in Manhattan as recently as March 2015, New York Department of Elections records show.
El-Sayed re-registered in Michigan in 2016 and did so with a New York driver license, according to Michigan Secretary of State records.
"This may be a problem. This may be something that the courts may have to decide," said [Lansing pollster] Ed Sarpolus
El-Sayed pushes back against the article by reporter Joel Kurth:
"Abdul is 100-percent eligible to be governor of Michigan. He has been continuously registered to vote in Michigan since he was 18 years old, and he has maintained continuous residence in Michigan since his childhood,” Adam Joseph, an El-Sayed spokesman, wrote in a statement.
"He is a son of Michigan -- born and raised in this state, went to public schools in this state, and had a daughter in this state."