Steve Karnowsky and Mohamed Ibrahim | AP
MINNEAPOLIS — Rep. Ilhan Omar is about to learn whether voters in her Minneapolis-area congressional district support the mix of confrontational, anti-Trump progressivism and celebrity that she brings to the job.
Omar, the first Somali American and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, is facing a well-funded challenger in Minnesota’s Democratic primaries on Tuesday. Antone Melton-Meaux, a lawyer and mediator, raised millions of anti-Omar dollars to fill mailboxes and flood the airwaves. His “Focused on the Fifth” message has portrayed Omar, a member of “The Squad” of four progressive female lawmakers, as out of touch with the 5th District.
Omar rejected Melton-Meaux’s attacks, saying they were funded by interests that wanted to get her out of Congress because she’s effective. She also downplayed Melton-Meaux’s money and played up her ground game before the vote, saying, “Organised people will always beat organised money.”
Omar was leading in early returns. Absentee voting was heavy, and officials must count mail-in ballots that arrive as late as Thursday under safety rules imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Democratic US Sen. Tina Smith and Republican challenger Jason Lewis easily won their primaries in the only statewide races on the ballot. Elsewhere, in western Minnesota’s conservative 7th District, former state Sen. Michelle Fischbach was the endorsed Republican in a three-way race for the right to challenge Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson. Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, is one of the GOP’s top targets to flip a House seat in November.
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 apologizing. She also came under scrutiny when her marriage fell apart and she married her political consultant months after denying they were having an affair.
Republicans also raised questions about continuing payments to her new husband’s firm, though experts said they aren’t necessarily improper.