Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American member of the US Congress, survived a stiff Democratic primary challenge from a well-funded opponent, who tried to make an issue of her national celebrity, the latest in a string of victories by a new generation of progressive legislators.
Omar, seeking her second term in November, easily defeated Antone Melton-Meaux, a lawyer and mediator who raised millions in anti-Omar money, and a third candidate.
She expanded her base by winning 57 percent of the vote against her two challengers during the election cycle, compared with her 48 percent victory in the 2018 primary.
“In Minnesota, we know that organised people will always beat organised money,” she wrote on social media following her win. “Despite the attacks, our support has only grown.”
Omar’s district is predominantly Democratic, and she is expected to win in November.
One of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress in 2018, Omar, 37, is well-known as a member of the “Squad” of four freshman liberal congresswomen.
Omar built on a national profile that started when the onetime refugee from Somalia was elected to the Minnesota Legislature in 2016. Her aggressive advocacy on liberal issues, and her eagerness to take on US President Donald Trump, made her even more prominent.
Omar and her allies gained confidence in her re-election chances after primary victories last week by fellow progressive members of Congress Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and by Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist who removed a longtime St Louis-area congressman.
They also claimed momentum from the renewed focus on racial and economic justice after George Floyd’s death in the city of Minneapolis.
‘Our squad is big’
After news reports projected Omar as the winner of the race, Tlaib congratulated her saying, “Our squad is big!” Omar and Tlaib became the first two Muslim women elected to Congress in 2018.
Omar’s opponent Melton-Meaux used the cash to paper the district and flood airwaves with his “Focused on the Fifth” message that portrayed Omar as out of touch with the heavily Democratic Minneapolis-area 5th District, which has not elected a Republican to Congress since 1960.
It has been the honor of my life to represent you in Congress and I look forward to continuing to serve the people of the 5th District in the years to come.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) August 12, 2020
He conceded defeat and acknowledged his efforts were not enough, while declining to speculate on why.
Omar rejected Melton-Meaux’s attacks, saying they were funded by interests who wanted to get her out of Congress because she’s effective.
Omar’s win in a Democratic stronghold means all four Squad members are likely to win re-election in November. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York dispatched a primary challenger in June, and the fourth Squad member, Representative Ayanna Pressley, is running unopposed in her primary in Massachusetts next month.
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Vermont and Georgia all held primary elections for Congress on Tuesday. The outcome will help set the stage for November elections to the House of Representatives and Senate that will determine the balance of power in Washington.
After entering Congress with fanfare, Omar hurt herself early with comments about Israel and money that even some fellow Democrats called anti-Semitic, and found herself apologising.
She also came under scrutiny when her marriage fell apart and she remarried her political consultant months after denying they had a relationship.
Republicans also raised questions about continuing payments to her new husband’s firm, though experts said they are not necessarily improper.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, police reform also emerged as an issue. Omar supported a push by a majority of the Minneapolis City Council to replace the city’s police department with something new.
Al Jazeera and news agencies