Rep. Ilhan Omar handily prevailed in a contentious DFL primary challenge in the Fifth District on Tuesday, a race that drew in millions of dollars from across the country and cemented her upward rise in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Omar bested four primary challengers by double-digits, including DFL newcomer and mediation lawyer Antone Melton-Meaux, whose well-funded campaign was centered on the argument that he would be more focused on the needs of the district than the outspoken incumbent.
But with nearly all of the results reported in the race, Omar had 57% of the vote to Melton-Meaux’s 39%. He conceded shortly after 9 p.m. In her moment of victory, Omar tweeted that “organized people will always beat organized money.”
Her victory appeared to solidify her position in Congress as a champion of the party’s progressive wing following a tumultuous first term.
“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 since 2018,” Omar said in a statement.
“This election isn’t about me. It’s about an agenda rooted in people’s everyday struggles — and the corporations and right-wing donors who are threatened by it.”
Her emphatic victory follows that of several progressive women of color in Congress who also faced well-financed primary challengers this year. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib both handily prevailed this summer in high-dollar primary races.
But even as Omar prevailed, the spirited primary challenge exposed fractures between progressives and traditional liberals in the party, including among local civil rights leaders who took different sides.
Melton-Meaux said he was disappointed by the results but he felt he ran his campaign in a way that would “make my parents proud.”
“We’ve run it with character and integrity, and I think we really struck a chord,” he said in an interview.
“We fell short, but we still got over 60,000 votes in this great district, from people that really believe in leadership that shows up and is accessible and accountable, and to try and end the division that we have in Washington. I’m proud of that message and how it resonated.”
Omar rose to prominence in her first term as one of the first Muslim women in Congress, a whip of the progressive caucus and a member of “the Squad.”
But her policy positions and frequent criticisms of President Donald Trump has made her a popular target for conservatives, and she faced criticism from Jewish leaders and some fellow Democrats for past remarks about the political influence of Israel, for which she has apologized.
Melton-Meaux had the backing of prominent Democrats in the district, such as civil rights activist Josie Johnson and Sam Kaplan, the former U.S. ambassador to Morocco in the Obama administration.
But he also raised millions of dollars in the race from across the country, including from some conservative donors and pro-Isreal groups that wanted to see Omar ousted from Congress.
Omar’s national profile earned her the backing of former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as prominent Minnesota Democrats like Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Her campaign noted that she increased her margin of victory by nearly 10 percentage points from her first DFL primary race for Congress in 2018, and she received more votes than any other Democratic candidate in a primary election in the district since 2006.
Turnout overall in the race was up from two years ago, when Omar faced five primary challengers.
The race drew millions into both Omar and Melton-Meaux’s campaigns, money that was used to blanket homes and televisions across the district with appeals from both candidates all summer, including increasingly sharp attacks from both sides.
Melton-Meaux’s campaign criticized Omar for past state-level campaign finance violations and for directing more than $1.6 million to a consulting firm where her husband is a co-partner. In the past, Omar’s campaign has said there’s nothing improper about the payments because they were made for legitimate campaign work.
In turn, the DFL Party, which backed Omar, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging Melton-Meaux violated the law by obscuring the identity of political consultants listed as limited liability corporations working on his campaign.
He has said it was necessary to protect them from being blacklisted for taking on a Democratic incumbent.
Throughout the campaign Omar’s campaign also questioned Melton-Meaux’s progressive credentials, capitalizing on financial support he received from pro-Israel groups and some conservatives urging Republicans to crossover and vote in the Democratic primary against Omar. Early on Election Day, Melton-Meaux disavowed any connection to a text campaign from an unknown group urging “patriots” to defeat Omar as a “duty.”
“The Antone for Congress campaign is NOT conducting a text campaign and disavows the dog-whistle racism in the messages,” he tweeted.
More than $2.5 million has been spent by outside groups targeting Omar in the race, according to campaign finance tracking site Open Secrets.
“If this election showed us anything, it’s the lengths that those seeking to uphold systems of oppression will go to stop a movement that wants to put power back in the hands of people,” Omar said.
Her victory all but assures Omar will head back to Congress in the district, which includes Minneapolis and cities such as St. Louis Park, Richfield, Crystal, Robbinsdale, Golden Valley, New Hope, Fridley and northeast Edina.
In general election battles, the district is the turnout generator for the DFL Party, boosting statewide candidates.
Republican-endorsed candidate and businessman Lacy Johnson, who has raised more than $4 million for his campaign, also prevailed in a three-way primary contest on Tuesday.