Muslim American taking on daunting odds in bid to unseat Reid |

Muslim American taking on daunting odds in bid to unseat Reid

By John L. Smith

I meant it as a compliment when I told Mansoor Ijaz he was among the most intriguing carpetbaggers I’d ever met in Nevada politics.

He smiled politely, but couldn’t help shrugging. It was clear that, despite his innumerable intellectual gifts and compelling rhetoric, that he didn’t understand what it meant to be a carpetbagger in Nevada.

Heaven knows there have been a gaggle of them. They all appeared with that look of consummate confidence, like Icarus before the heat was on.

There was California businessman Jim Gallaway, who moved to Nevada to run against Gov. Bob Miller in 1990. Gallaway was a veritable crash-test dummy.

There was Alabama television station owner Charles Wood, who challenged U.S. Sen. Harry Reid in 1992. Wood was so pulverized I don’t think they ever found a body.

A favorite carpetbagger was Hollywood producer Aaron Russo, who challenged Kenny Guinn for governor in 1998. I’ll never forget interviewing Russo at his rented place at the Las Vegas Country Club. On a stroll through the kitchen, I noticed his cupboards were bare.

Who could forget retired gaming executive Tom Gallagher, who took on Rep. Jon Porter in 2004? Alas, only the voters.

Jack Carter, son of the former president, was another gifted carpetbagger whose gifts were returned in his 2006 campaign against U.S. Sen. John Ensign.

Even lying about someone being a carpetbagger, as incumbent Porter did in his ’06 campaign against fourth-generation Nevadan Tessa Hafen, can be crippling. Hafen’s family arrived by covered wagon, but the charge helped Porter win.

The carpetbaggers had plenty in common: gifted intellects, sizable personal fortunes, a list of accomplishments in business, and a lump on their heads the size of a grapefruit after all the votes were counted.

It is against that historical heat that Mansoor Ijaz says he is considering testing his wings against none other than Majority Leader Reid. No, really.

An American Muslim of Pakistani heritage, Ijaz is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Virginia. At 46, he’s the founder and president of the Crescent Investment Group of New York, which sports former CIA Director James Woolsey, Lt. Gen. James Abrahamson, and Gen. James L. Jones as members of its advisory board.

Ijaz’s corporate biography notes that Crescent “is investing private equity to develop technologies that protect vital infrastructure and secure against an array of terrorist threats.”

Among the companies where he’s listed as chairman are WorldSpectrum, which is developing “high-altitude airships … to provide telecommunications, surveillance and disaster management functions.”

There’s also Eco-Drive Technologies, which focuses on developing advanced hybrid automobiles, and Crescent Hydropolis Resorts, which touts itself as a developer of underwater hotels and resorts.

I told you he was intriguing.

He’s written many op-ed pieces on terrorism and foreign relations in major newspapers and magazines. He’s also appeared on CNN and Fox News, among others, on the subjects of terrorism and the Muslim world.

Ijaz made headlines when he made an effort to negotiate a counterterrorism agreement between the Sudan and the United States during the Clinton administration. He’s been attacked by critics, including former members of the Clinton administration, for his insistence that he had persuaded the Sudan to turn over the location of Osama bin Laden, only to find the United States too distracted. Although right-leaning media outlets have made much of the Sudanese issue, according to the 9/11 Commission didn’t find credible evidence to support the most dramatic claims.

Ijaz, who calls himself an independent, also is listed as a generous contributor to Democratic Party causes, including $525,000 on Al Gore’s behalf, according to The Washington Post. Although he’s never run for public office, Ijaz obviously understands what makes the campaign wheels turn.

Is Ijaz a dreamer who foolishly sees Nevada and its relatively small population as a target of opportunity? Is he a stalking horse-in-waiting, one capable of thumping on Reid and taking articulate shots at presidential candidate Hillary Clinton?

Would Republicans embrace him? Would Democrats stop laughing long enough to take him seriously?

Or will Mansoor Ijaz defy daunting odds and one day be known as the Muslim American who symbolizes to the Islamic world that the United States has a seat for everyone at the political table?

In that light, this carpetbagger’s potential candidacy appears most intriguing, indeed.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295.