Ro Khanna Backs Nabilah Islam, Dubbed AOC of Atlanta, in Contested Georgia Primary

"She reflects the vibrancy and diversity of her district and symbolizes the New South," Khanna told The Intercept.

Nabilah Islam. Photo: Courtesy of Nabilah Islam for Congress

Nabilah Islam, the 30-year-old daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, is one of six Democratic candidates vying for the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Rob Woodall, a five-term GOP incumbent who entered office as part of the 2010 tea party wave. Islam is regularly touted in the press as “Atlanta’s AOC,” and is trying to demonstrate that a populist message can work in this working class district.

California Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., is breaking with the party establishment and endorsing Islam, becoming the first sitting member of Congress to rally behind the young contender. And, despite previously working for establishment players like Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and the Democratic National Committee, Islam has secured an endorsement from the Metro Atlanta chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Occupy Democrats and Matriarch, a political action committee dedicated to electing women from working-class and low-income backgrounds to Congress, have endorsed her as well.

“I was inspired by her candidacy,” Khanna told The Intercept. “She is someone who personally understands the need for Medicare for All. She can help bridge Clinton and Sanders supporters to expand and build our progressive coalition. As a woman of color of Muslim faith, she reflects the vibrancy and diversity of her district and symbolizes the New South.”

Islam’s platform includes policies with growing popular support, such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. This week, about 6 in 10 Democrats at the Iowa caucuses reported supporting the elimination of private health insurance to establish a single-payer health care system, the Washington Post reported.

Her biggest opponent in the primary is Carolyn Bourdeaux, a college professor who narrowly lost to Woodall in 2018, and has previously expressed opposition to Medicare for All. During her 2018 campaign, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she said she believes in “fixing” the Affordable Care Act and “providing a public health insurance option.” Bourdeaux doesn’t currently list any policy positions on her campaign website.

The state’s 7th Congressional District, which includes Atlanta’s northern suburbs, has become increasingly diverse over the past few years and now has a population that is predominantly people of color. Demographic changes, in addition to Bourdeaux coming within roughly 400 votes of winning in the midterms, prompted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to make the district a top target for the 2020 cycle. In 2018, it added Bourdeaux to their “red-to-blue” program.

So far, Islam’s campaign has out-raised many of her six Democratic opponents, including two state legislators who are running, taking in about $400,000. According to OpenSecrets, Bourdeaux’s campaign has raised about $1,154,686 and has $863,041 cash on hand. Bourdeaux has also won endorsements from Democratic Georgia Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson, and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, all of whom supported her 2018 campaign.

Islam, who quit her job to campaign full-time and is living on her savings, recently made headlines for petitioning the Federal Election Commission to let her use campaign funds to pay for health care, arguing that it would make running for office more accessible to working-class people.

“Since many candidates quit their jobs to campaign full-time (myself included), the Federal Election Commission assumes we can pay for health care out of pocket — using savings or trust funds to pay thousands in insurance premiums,” she wrote in a Teen Vogue op-ed last month.

“But I was raised by working-class Bangladeshi immigrants who lived paycheck to paycheck. I’m 30 years old, have nearly $30,000 in student loans, and my savings are dwindling down to zero. So for the first time in history, I’m asking the federal government to let me spend campaign funds on health care — because working women need health care to run for office.”

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