DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- When Representative David Price was first elected to Congress in 1986, Nida Allam was not yet born. In 1994, when Price narrowly lost his seat in part as a result of redistricting, Allam was only months old. Two years later, Price gained it back, and has held on since, often easily defeating challengers.
Now, with Price choosing to retire instead of seek another term, Allam is hoping to fill his seat.
"We're feeling excited. The momentum we've been seeing with our volunteer base growing, with folks turning out to the polls, voter turnout is higher, and the reception our volunteers have had at the polls is very positive," said Allam during a sit-down interview with ABC11.
Allam's entry into politics was spurred by political tragedy, when in 2015, three of her friends, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all Muslim college students, were murdered in Chapel Hill; Deah and Yusor were newlyweds, Razan was Yusor's young sister.
"I never expected to run for office before losing my three friends. But what I saw, the Muslim community, we tend to shy away from politics and conversations whenever we were spoken about in the media, by elected officials, it was always in a negative light, using stereotypes or Islamophobic tropes. But I realized after the tragic deaths that we couldn't sit idly by anymore because the people in power weren't speaking up for us, they weren't advocating for us. And we needed to change that," said Allam, who credited Price for his consistent presence in fundraising efforts and scholarship and relief projects in their memory.
In 2020, Allam became the first Muslim woman ever elected to public office in North Carolina when she won a seat on the Durham County Board of Commissioners.
"It's really exciting to see. We had people going door to door, knocking on doors talking to voters. And one of them in Alamance County was out in Burlington, went to a Muslim family's house, and when they showed the mother and her daughter my flyer, this young girl got so excited, because she said 'she looks like me. I've never seen someone who looks like me running for office,'" said Allam.
She credits her experience on the board of commissioners to better understanding the needs of the community, specifically pointing to a tax assistance program for low-income residents to provide a grant through the Department of Social Services for up to $750 to go towards paying property taxes.
"Housing should be a basic human right. And we're seeing unfortunately here in this district in Durham that our homeless population is increasing and a large percentage of them are our veteran population," said Allam.
She also pointed to her insight on educational issues, and a lack of financial support that exists.
"Unfortunately when it comes to our public education funding, there's so many gaps that municipalities have to fill, our county commission has to fill because the state isn't stepping up to pay teacher's a living wage. They aren't stepping up to address the infrastructure we need for our schools,' adding that she believes federal support is needed to address shortcomings that exist on a statewide level.
At just 28 years old, Allam has made a concerted effort to connect with youth voters, including maintaining active social media accounts.
"We've had a town hall on UNC's campus. We've been doing meet-and-greet with Young Dems on college campuses. But we've also had a youth ambassador program where we have over 40 youth ambassadors from the four colleges and universities in this district - we have Duke, UNC, NC Central, Elon - and making sure they're engaged and have their voices heard. Because whoever's elected to the seat is going to represent them," said Allam.
Whether the strategy pays off remains to be seen; data analyzed by Dr. Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College, found the average of early voters in North Carolina were 64 years old, significantly higher than the average age of all voters in the state - 49 years old. Further potentially complicating efforts - recent graduations mean many students have already left for the semester. Still, Allam remains confident, noting they've held training sessions with student volunteers on phone banking and door knocking, adding some have even stayed back to assist with outreach efforts.
Allam has been open about her health struggles, sharing a personal connection to a leaked SCOTUS draft regarding the potential Roe v. Wade would be sent back to the states.
"That's an issue that's deeply personal to me, because I had to have an abortion last year that saved my life. And the decision of an abortion should be left to the individual and whomever they want to bring into that doctor's office with them. It shouldn't be up to our courts that are being used in a partisan way to push a right wing agenda," Allam said.
Like many Democrats in the state, Allam has also pushed for greener energy sources and expanded healthcare coverage.
"One of the biggest issues facing North Carolinians and people across this country is access to healthcare. And we've seen our Republican led
state legislature refuses to expand Medicaid, leaving hundreds of thousands of individuals uninsured, uncovered. And we need to change that. And we need to pass Medicare for all. Because we saw this pandemic has shown us the gaps in this system and the flaws. I was one of 250,000 North Carolinians that lost my health insurance due to COVID when I was laid off my job. And we can't allow people in the wealthiest nation in the world to go into medical debt, and have to pick and choose between paying their rent, paying their medical bills or getting their prescription medications, it's just not what this country was built on," Allam said.
However, she has broken with some in her party on foreign policy, specifically on Israel. She disagreed with a 2017 Anti-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions legislation - passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper, which would prevent the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.
"I believe our Constitution protects our right to freedom of protest, and I believe that our Constitution (should) be upheld in that way, and I don't think the state should be getting involved," Allam contended.
Allam has faced pushback over her positions, specifically a since-deleted tweet in 2018 regarding debate over humanitarian aid to Palestine in which she wrote, "The United States of Israel," and her participation last year in a rally in support of Palestine, in which some attendees held signs referencing Nazis and Adolf Hitler.
In an op-ed in INDY Week, Allam apologized for both, writing in part, "we cannot sit by while our Jewish neighbors are under attack; we must stand in solidarity with them and unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms." Indy Week would eventually endorse Allam in the race.
When asked about the tweet and rally, which she livestreamed on a social media account, Allam highlighted steps she's taken since.
"I've had a lot of conversations and relationship-building with the Jewish community, and I've been grateful for their graciousness in bringing me into their places of worship and conversation to address my previous comments as well as attending those protests. And we've come to the understanding that I strongly believe that the struggle of Muslims and Jewish people in this country is intertwined, and I am deeply apologetic for the pain that my comments have made in the past towards the Jewish community. And I truly believe that when we work together, we can see a plan for the United States being a global super power, and we have that opportunity to promote peace and promote unity amongst our allies, and make sure we take steps towards that," Allam said, adding she supported a two-state solution.
Allam expressed her backing of President Biden's actions in providing assistance to Ukraine, while discussing the humanitarian crisis the war has created. She pointed to her experience in helping establish an Immigrant and Refugee Services coordinator position in Durham County as an example.
"Investing in funding, more NGO's that are on the ground, more non-profits that are on the ground providing this relief like Church World Service here in Durham who was integral in helping Afghani refugees find home, settle into their places, and also providing language interpretation services for students, helping parents find jobs with companies that welcome refugees and hire refugees," Allam said.
As for Election Day, she emphasized the importance of down-ballot races.
"Having your voice heard is more important than ever."
Allam is running against seven other candidates including Valerie Foushee, Clay Aiken and Dr. Ashley Ward.