State Rep. Ilhan Omar won the DFL Party endorsement on Sunday in the crowded race to fill U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s seat in Congress.

Omar, a first-term state lawmaker from Minneapolis who has quickly gained national media attention as the first Somali-American to serve in a state legislature, won the three-way endorsement contest after two rounds of voting. She told a cheering crowd of supporters that she is excited to build on the momentum from the party convention as she heads toward a competitive August primary election.

“I am ready for all of us to go out tomorrow and door-knock and continue to have conversations with the people of Congressional District Five,” she said.

The endorsement is functionally a symbolic gesture, since all five DFL candidates in the race will appear on the Aug. 14 primary ballot, and the three who participated in Sunday’s endorsement convention in Minneapolis — Omar, state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray and real estate broker Frank Drake — all said they intended to continue with their campaigns with or without the party’s endorsement.

Two DFLers in the race, former state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and DFL Somali Caucus founder Jamal Abdulahi, opted to skip the endorsing convention and go straight to the primary.

But official party backing still confers some status in the heavily Democratic Fifth District, which includes all of Minneapolis as well as St. Louis Park, Edina, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale and other nearby suburbs. Sunday’s four-hour convention, held in an elementary school auditorium in south Minneapolis, was attended by about 200 voting delegates, along with other DFL candidates and supporters.

Ellison shifts his focus

The event was organized on short notice after Ellison, who has represented the district since 2007, decided to run for state attorney general this month. Ellison attended Sunday’s convention but declined to endorse any of the candidates seeking his seat.

“I absolutely believe in all of them, and that’s why I can’t pick between them,” he said.

Omar, however, came to the endorsing convention with the backing of a number of other elected officials. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Council President Lisa Bender were both in the crowd wearing blue Ilhan T-shirts, as was state Rep. Raymond Dehn, a former candidate for mayor.

In the first round of voting, Omar took 55 percent of the vote, while Torres Ray took 30 percent and about 14 percent voted for no endorsement. Drake, who ran against Ellison as a Republican in 2016, dropped off the ballot because he received the lowest number of votes.

After conferring with her supporters, Torres Ray took the microphone and began to give what sounded like a concession speech. She told her supporters that more rounds of voting could be lengthy, and she understood if they needed to leave, but then said she wanted to continue with a second ballot.

Stay and vote, Omar says

“This is an historic moment,” Torres Ray said. “Two amazing immigrant women are running for Congress in the state of Minnesota. I love it and appreciate what we are doing here because we are not divided in the Democratic Party.”

Omar, meanwhile, told delegates to stay in their seats.

“I have never been afraid to fight for the things I believe in, so I need you all to stay around and finish the job we are requesting you to do,” she said.

In the second round of voting, Omar took 68 percent of the vote, easily clearing the 60 percent hurdle needed for endorsement. Another 24 percent of the delegates voted for Torres Ray.

DFL Chairman Ken Martin applauded the endorsement, saying in a statement that Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee, “represents what’s great about America.”

“As a state representative, she has focused on civil rights, human rights and alleviating poverty,” he said.

There are three candidates in the Republican primary: Jennifer Zielinski, an Allina Health employee who got the party endorsement; Christopher Chamberlin, a St. Cloud resident who told the St. Cloud Times he’d move to Minneapolis if elected, and Bob Carney, a frequent candidate.