A pair of intense primary challenges from political newcomers ended with solid victories for incumbents, as DFLers and Republicans completed the first phase of their battle for control of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Longtime state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, triumphed over Minneapolis school board member Mohamud Noor, capturing 54 percent of the vote compared with 46 percent for Noor. She’ll be seeking her 22nd term in November.
Deputy House Minority Leader Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, also won, beating former supporter Sheila Kihne. Loon won with 61 percent of the vote compared with 39 percent for Kihne and will be seeking a fourth term in November.
Kahn said it was probably the closest election she’s had in several decades in office. “We never let anyone call this a victory party,” Kahn said at the Minneapolis bar Mattie’s on Main, when asked if she had been nervous about the results. “We all called it an election night party. Until that final result came up we never said anything except cautiously optimistic.”
Kahn will face Abdimalik Askar in the general election.
Noor praised his supporters for entering the political fray.
“I’m sure everyone is disappointed and it’ll take some time for them to heal, but elections are about winning and losing, and part of the process is about accepting that outcome,” Noor said. “They were all winners just by showing up and participating in the process. This was an incredible moment.”
The heated contest continued right up to when the polls closed at 8 p.m., as Noor supporters from the Somali-American community stationed themselves along street corners, waving signs and yelling “We make history tonight!” at passing cars.
As the polls closed, Noor supporters were buzzing about the campaign’s makeshift headquarters, a shuttered sports bar in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. Surrounded by bananas, Doritos and cookies in an upstairs room overlooking the Hiawatha light rail line, a team worked the phones in a frantic final attempt to woo voters.
Noor, meanwhile, spent much of his afternoon with official business. The Minneapolis school board met on primary day, meaning Noor had to cast several votes before retiring to his apartment to prepare for the night ahead.
The widely watched campaign was marred by allegations of violence, voter fraud and racism. In a first, the party stationed sergeants-at-arms throughout the district polling places, in an effort to prevent voter intimidation and maintain order. During his campaign, Noor contended he was more in touch with the needs of the increasingly diverse district, which includes a large swath of the city’s Somali population.
Kahn spent Tuesday working the phones in her district, optimistic that she had garnered support from across cultures. Kahn campaign attorney and strategist Brian Rice said their goal was to win 500 Somali votes and 2,000 non-Somali votes. “We pretty much achieved that objective,” Rice said.
Asked whether she was surprised to win, Kahn said she wasn’t. “I expected to win,” Kahn said. “I wouldn’t have run if I didn’t expect to win! But I was incredibly pleased at the intense support that I did get from the Somali community.”
Loon survives challenge
Kihne, a conservative activist entered the race after Loon cast one of four Republican votes in the Minnesota House in support of same-sex marriage.
“I don’t know any lessons anyone can take away from this off the bat, but one thing I’ve always tried to do is listen carefully to my district and constituents,” Loon said. “While it was a difficult vote, I made it feeling that was how my district felt and how they wanted me to vote. Perhaps it’s a validation of that or of them thinking I’m a good public servant and they want me to continue.”
Loon began her day in Eden Prairie, shaking hands with commuters at the SouthWest Transit station and stopping by a coffee shop before casting her vote at 9:30 a.m.
“I feel pretty good, but who knows?” she said, as the waiting began. “I’m hoping for the best; I feel like we worked really hard and did everything we could.”
Kihne said despite the failure to get the GOP nomination, her campaign was successful in calling attention to Loon’s record in the House. In the process, she received ample support, she said.
“I am very gratified that Jenifer Loon, my state representative, has restated her commitment to many of the conservative principles that I care deeply about,” Kihne said. “That’s part of the reason you run — to challenge a debate.
As to whether she’ll consider another foray into politics, Kihne said “I can’t even think about that right now.” She also hesitated as to whether she would support Loon in the general election.
“I’m thinking; I’m going to just take a few days,” she said. “It was a very contentious race.”
More GOP challenges
Of the 15 legislative primaries, nine featured Republicans challenging their party’s endorsed candidates, while DFLers faced off in six districts. Republicans, in particular, paid scant attention to party endorsement this time out, with a number of candidates refusing to drop out just because they failed to get their party’s seal of approval.
In Minnetonka, a three-way race for the Democratic nomination ended with a narrow victory for attorney Jon Applebaum with 38 percent of the vote. Tony Wagner finished just behind with 36 percent, and Jon Tollefson with 26 percent.
In the Wright County Republican race to represent the St. Michael and Dayton area, endorsed candidate Eric Lucero won handily over Kevin Kasel with 67 percent of the vote. Lucero was endorsed last spring over Rep. David FitzSimmons, who had voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013. Kasel entered the race after FitzSimmons dropped out.