State Rep. Ilhan Omar won the DFL primary Tuesday for the Minneapolis-area Fifth District congressional seat, making the Somali refugee and relative political newcomer a likely member of Congress come January.
“We’re going to Washington,” Omar said at her victory party at Safari Restaurant in south Minneapolis, to roars from the crowd.
The Fifth District, which includes all of Minneapolis and several of its neighboring suburbs, has a long history of voting staunchly Democratic. That makes Omar a heavy favorite in the November election to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. The Republican candidate is Jennifer Zielinski, who works in health care and who easily won her party primary on Tuesday.
Omar, who lives in Minneapolis, defeated five other candidates in the DFL race. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, a former state House speaker, finished second, and state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray came in third. All three candidates had focused their campaign message on fighting the agenda of President Donald Trump.
As supporters cheered under billowy white hangings, crystal chandeliers and a disco ball, Omar laid out a vision for her campaign.
“We believe that together — together we can organize around the politics of hope and make sure that not only do we have the America we believe in, but the America we deserve,” said Omar, 36.
Omar was the first Somali-American elected to the Legislature in 2016. If she wins in November, she would likely join Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib, who recently won a Democratic primary in Michigan, as the first Muslim women members of Congress. She would also become the first woman of color from Minnesota to join Congress.
Omar’s profile has made her a national political celebrity of sorts, with an appearance on “The Daily Show” and other national coverage.
Speakers blasted the Maroon 5 song “Girls Like You” as Omar entered her campaign party Tuesday night. Omar appeared in the music video for the song.
As a Muslim and refugee, she said she would be a strong voice on immigration issues at a time when the Trump administration has sought to limit travel from Muslim countries and drawn criticism for separating parents and children of undocumented immigrants arriving on the Mexican border.
A first-term state legislator, Omar has less experience in office than the other leading candidates and has attracted some controversy with negative comments about Israel and acceptance of speaking fees in violation of statehouse ethics rules. In 2016, she adamantly denied reports by conservative bloggers that she married her brother in order to help him obtain U.S. citizenship.
As she voted Tuesday in downtown Minneapolis, Sharon Mallery said candidates like Omar gave her hope in fighting back against Trump. “I saw new blood,” said Mallery, 64. “I saw more people who have heart for a fight. And that’s what we need — someone to fight for us.”
Cindy Purdy, 60, of Fridley, decided to go with experience. “I voted for Margaret Anderson Kelliher because Omar is young and, maybe, less experienced,” Purdy said.
Like the other leading DFL candidates, Omar supported Medicare for all, stronger gun control and the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Kelliher was a state representative for a dozen years, serving four years as speaker. Ray has been a state senator since 2007.
Khalid Mohamed danced and sang at Omar’s victory party, an American flag draped around his shoulders and a Somalia flag in hand.
“This is back home,” the 25-year-old said as he gestured to the small light blue flag with a white star. “And this is home now,” he added, wrapping the Star-Spangled Banner tighter around his torso.