If the presidential election in Michigan emerges as a close contest, Martin Manna knows of a somewhat overlooked bloc of voters that could sway the outcome – the Detroit area’s large Chaldean community.

An estimated 160,000 Chaldeans – Iraqi-American Christians – live in Macomb and Oakland counties, according to Manna, a longtime activist in that community. That represents a trove of voters larger than the population of 71 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

“The Chaldean community is up for grabs,” said Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation based in Sterling Heights. “I’ve never seen such enthusiasm about an election.”

Chaldeans and other Iraqi Christians may have played a major factor, under the radar of pollsters, in Donald Trump’s 2016 squeaker, when he won Michigan by 10,704 votes. Most Chaldeans apparently backed Trump.

With less than six weeks before the 2020 election, President Trump seems to have the upper hand despite moves early in his presidency to deport 1,400 Iraqis, many from Metro Detroit. During a campaign stop in Warren last January, Trump vowed that those facing forced removal would get “an extension.” The promised reprieve remains in limbo.

Former Vice President Joe Biden also has his supporters within this ethnic community, but he appears to be Plan B for voters disillusioned by Trump.

“There are Chaldeans who are upset over the deportation issue, and there are others who will not vote for the Democratic Party,” said Mary Romaya, a retired Warren Woods Public Schools history teacher and former executive director of the Chaldean Cultural Center in West Bloomfield.

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This is an excerpt of a column I wrote for Deadline Detroit.