Ilhan Omar Wins Minnesota Primary Race

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., sits with fellow Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee during a bill markup on March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar handily beat a Democratic primary challenger in her Minnesota congressional district Tuesday, ending one of the most heavily-financed U.S. House races in the state’s history. 

With 98.7% of precincts reporting, Omar commanded 57.3% of the vote by 10 p.m. CT Tuesday night, leading her strongest challenger, Antone Melton-Meaux, by 18 points. 

Omar took to Twitter to celebrate her victory. “In Minnesota, we know that organized people will always beat organized money,” she wrote. “Tonight, our movement didn’t just win. We earned a mandate for change. Despite outside efforts to defeat us, we once again broke turnout records. Despite the attacks, our support has only grown.”

Melton-Meaux, an arbitrator by trade and a political newcomer, conceded the race at his campaign headquarters in Minneapolis shortly after 9 p.m., according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He thanked his supporters on Twitter early in the evening.

A Democratic primary victory in the 5th district is a near-guarantee of reelection for Omar. The district’s last Republican representative left office in 1963, and Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor Party has firmly held the seat ever since. 

Omar has been a dynamic and controversial figure in Minneapolis since her election in 2018. A member of the all-women of color “Squad” in Congress, her support for progressive causes like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and her endorsement of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, have gained her a fervent base of supporters but have also made her a high-profile target for right-wingers including President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Omar’s national and international entanglements drew critique from Melton-Meaux, whose campaign slogan was “focused on the fifth.” Melton-Meaux and supporters have also levied accusations of antisemitism at Omar for her critiques of Israeli-U.S. relations. They have also critiqued Omar’s spotty attendance record, which she attributes to deaths in her family and the fact that Congress takes votes on Muslim holidays. Omar’s father died of Covid-19 in July. 

Meanwhile, Omar has called into question the millions of dollars Melton-Meaux’ campaign has at hand, much of it from traditionally Republican donors.

With each campaign raising over $4 million, money became a focus of discussion for both campaigns late in the race, and both campaigns also face Federal Elections Commission complaints against them.

A victory would make Omar the third of four “Squad” members to win contested primaries this year. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan have already won their contested primaries. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts does not have an opponent in that state’s Sept. 1 primary.  

Early tallies also showed party endorsements carrying weight in major contested primaries around the state, with Republican Jason Lewis and Democrat Tina Smith dominating their primaries for the U.S. Senate seat Smith was appointed to in 2017 and won in 2018. 

Republican state Senator Michelle Fischbach, who won her party’s endorsement to face Democrat Collin Peterson in the state’s 3rd House District, had 59.78% of the vote at 9:40 p.m., while two-time candidate Dave Hughes and newcomer Noel Collis trailed at 21% and 14% respectively. Fischbach won the GOP endorsement at a fiercely contested virtual convention, a victory which Hughes has said was the result of dirty politics.

Peterson, a founding member of the Blue Dog Coalition, led conservative Democrat Alycia Gruenhaugen with 76% of votes and 44% of precincts reporting.

And in a not-unexpected turn, longtime Democratic Representative Betty McCollum of the 4th District held a commanding lead over a stable of contenders, despite some unconventional campaigning by her opponents.

State races had one notable upset with first-time candidate and Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed Omar Fateh defeating state Senator Jeff Hayden in Senate District 62, which includes the location where George Floyd was killed on May 25. Fateh beat the two-term senator and assistant minority leader to the DFL endorsement at caucuses and convention in February, a process which Hayden quickly denounced. Afterward, Floyd’s death loomed large in Fateh’s campaign when he briefly suspended campaigning to protest and clean up the debris of rioting and burned buildings in the wake of Floyd’s death.

With hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans requesting mail-in ballots, the state does not expect final results Tuesday night. Those ballots — 637,463 as of Monday, with over 100,000 more sent to rural residents by default — have a two-day grace period to be counted. Secretary of State Steve Simon’s office reported Monday that over 423,000 mail-in ballots had already been received and processed.

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