By Scott Malone
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) - A two-term Cambridge, Massachusetts, city councilor and founder of an activist group that trains Muslim-Americans to run for office launched a campaign for U.S. Congress on Sunday that could make him the third Muslim in the chamber.
Nadeem Mazen, 34, was set to declare his run as a Democrat for a district northwest of Boston, a seat that comes open next year as 71-year-old Representative Niki Tsongas opts not to seek a sixth term in office.
The state's best-known Muslim elected official, Mazen plans to focus his campaign on economic issues. His attempt to jump from a municipal office to Congress is in keeping with the spirit of Jetpac, the activist group he launched in February aimed at encouraging more Muslims to seek elected office.
He is also prepared to face questions about his faith, as polls show many Americans take a dim view of Muslims, their memories colored by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
"People don't understand what it means to me to have a Muslim faith and to believe that faith compels me to serve every American and to serve the Constitution," Mazen said in an interview.
If successful, he could join U.S. Representatives Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana as the third Muslim in Congress.
Mazen's faith is unlikely to be held against him in a liberal-leaning region, said Jeffrey Berry, professor of political science at Tufts University.
"This is a liberal electorate, particularly in the primary ... I don't believe they're going to regard Mazen's religion as a problem," Berry said. "But it's not enough of a pull for this district to get them to vote for him as opposed to the others."
Other possible Democratic candidates include state Senator Barbara L'Italien; 2014 candidate for lieutenant governor Steve Kerrigan; Daniel Koh, former chief of staff to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and hotelier Abhijit Das.
Mazen said his campaign draws on themes raised by Democratic candidates U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as President Donald Trump, in the 2016 campaign.
"We had a substantive conversation in the last election," Mazen said. "Bernie Sanders said the economy and the system is rigged and Hillary Clinton said, 'You know what, I don't disagree,' and when Trump said, 'Those two are jokers but they're definitely correct,' I think we had a national moment."
(Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by Susan Thomas)