Like many political figures, Deedra Abboud is no stranger to online abuse. But because Abboud, a 45-year-old Arizona attorney, is Muslim, the digital vitriol she faces is especially nasty. “Towel headed piece of sh*t,” reads one recent comment. “Your first love is Satan (AKA Allah),” reads another. “No room for Muslims in our government,” says a third.
“It’s unfortunate that this is the type of discourse that has become acceptable in America,” says Abboud, who’s running to challenge Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. “We as a society have never stood up and said, ‘No, this doesn’t reflect us.'”
Abboud, who wears a hijab, converted to Islam in 1998 (she was previously a Southern Baptist.) Abboud started and served as president of the Arizona chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations, and was the director of the Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation. Abboud graduated from Arizona Summit Law School in 2012, practicing immigration and estate law before shifting into politics.
To be sure, Abboud’s campaign is a long shot. Before facing Sen. Flake, she must defeat Army veteran Chris Russell in the Democratic primary next summer. Additionally, neither of Arizona’s Senate seats has been held by a Democrat in over 20 years. “Ultimately, the numbers in Arizona still work to the Republicans’ advantage,” says Samara Klar, assistant professor of political science at the University of Arizona. “We have more Republican [voters] than we do Democrats, so the simple numbers are going to make it more difficult for the Democrats.”
But on Tuesday, Abboud got support from a potentially surprising source: Sen. Flake, Abboud’s would-be general election opponent if both politicians win their respective primaries. “Hang in there,” Flake told Abboud via Twitter. “Sorry you have to put up with this. Lots of wonderful people across AZ. You’ll find them.”
For Abboud, Flake’s message shows exactly how she believes politicians should act more often. “I expect our elected leaders to stand up and say when something’s wrong,” says Abboud. “I don’t think anyone has expected that lately, including myself, which is why I got into the campaign.”
Abboud tells TIME that Flake hasn’t contacted her beyond the Twitter exchange. “It wasn’t a tragedy where someone needs to reach out to another person,” she says. “It was on social media, and he handled it on social media, and that was very gracious.” Flake’s office declined to comment further.
Flake’s overture is being praised by some as a rare moment of civility in an increasingly partisan political climate. Flake “is one of the most decent people I know,” tweeted Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat. David Ramadan, a Republican and former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, called Flake a “class act” and “a dying breed.” Tim Fullerton, who runs digital communications for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, applauded Flake for “standing up and saying what’s right.”
Flake’s message to Abboud comes as his re-election bid appears increasingly vulnerable. At least one member of his own party, former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward, is openly challenging him, while several others are said to be mulling a similar move. CNN reports that Ward has been in contact with the White House about her campaign against Flake, who has been critical of President Trump.
Abboud says that, for Flake, responding to her situation is “a good political move” because “this is happening in his backyard.”
“I think that Flake does think that this is wrong,” she adds.
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