Rep. Omar faces well-funded, moderate challengers in heated District 5 Democratic primary

Longtime Bernie Sanders supporter U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, stumped for the Democratic presidential candidate at his Monday, March 2, 2020 pre-Super Tuesday rally in St. Paul, Minnesota's RiverCentre. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Minneapolis' U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar made history in 2018 when she became the first Somali-American to win a seat in U.S. Congress, representing Minnesota's 5th Congressional District. And though she will never lose that place in history, her seat may be in jeopardy to a well-funded, more moderate Democrat vying for her seat.

Omar, a member of the four-member "Squad" of freshman, Democratic women of color in the U.S. House, has garnered a prominent place in national media since taking office in January 2019: openly sparring with President Donald Trump , forming public alliances with prominent progressives such as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and drawing public criticism for her controversial votes and accusations of making anti-Semitic comments.

On Tuesday, Aug. 11, Omar will face four Democratic challengers — Antone Melton-Meaux, Les Lester, John Mason and Daniel Patrick McCarthy — vying to win over Minneapolis Democrats' favor in order to proceed to November's general election ballot and, ultimately, to Washington, D.C.

Melton-Meaux, in particular, has emerged as a well-funded threat to Omar's incumbency, raising a whopping $3.2 million in campaign contributions just between April and June of this year — multitudes more than Omar's own $471,000 raised in the same duration. Name recognition is often considered an advantage for candidates at the ballot box, but the politically moderate Melton-Meaux has turned Omar's high profile against her, presenting himself as the candidate more focused on working for CD5 constituents on Capitol Hill, as opposed to chasing headlines.

Omar, too has taken aim at Melton-Meaux, contrasting her own commitment to refusing large political donations to his campaign's large donors and financial cushion. In a July campaign mailer, Omar accused Melton-Meaux of being "in the Pocket of Wall Street." According to Vice News , Omar drew criticism for the flyer, which only named Jewish campaign donors by name.


In the final days before Tuesday's primary, the competition reached a fever pitch when the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party — who endorsed incumbent Omar — filed a Federal Elections Commission complaint against Melton-Meaux, his official campaign and associates, alleging violations of federal campaign disclosure requirements.

The party filed the complaint on Tuesday, Aug. 4, one week before the highly anticipated primary, accusing the campaign of "conspiring to intentionally obscure" the identity of political consultants listed as limited liability corporations. In a news release, DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said Melton-Meaux "has gone against the values of the DFL Party by apparently working with vendors to set up mysterious shell companies to hide millions of dollars in spending."

“Not only did those shell companies appear to have failed to file taxes, but the campaign illegally failed to disclose where that money is going," Martin said. "It appears they are illegally paying campaign vendors off-the-books and admitting to it.”

Melton-Meaux shot back at a Wednesday news conference, calling the accusations "frivolous."

"What this really is, frankly, is a desperate attempt by the DFL to resurrect Congresswoman Omar's campaign that is falling apart,” he said. “That's what this is."

Also Tuesday, Minnesota GOP-backed Lacy Johnson and Danielle Stella and Dalia al-Aqidi, will compete for the Republican nomination to make the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Michael Moore of the Legal Marijuana Now party is unopposed Tuesday.

District 5 voters can submit absentee ballots by mail up until Election Day, so long as they are postmarked by Aug. 11 and received at county elections offices within two days. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has warned that Minnesotans probably won't know most primary results on election night, potentially waiting several days before learning which party member will advance to November's general election.

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at or 651-290-0707.
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