WASHINGTON – Rep. Ilhan Omar turned back a serious challenge from Don Samuels in the Democratic primary in the 5th Congressional District, but the race was much closer than the lawmaker’s previous challenges.
With all the votes in, Omar won the primary 50.4% to Samuels’ 48.2%, falling far short of the 20-point victory she had over a Democratic rival two years ago. She is favored to beat Republican Cicely Davis, who won her party’s primary, in the general election in the deeply Democratic district.
Omar said in a statement that “Republicans and conservative Democrats have worked in lockstep to vote us out.”
“Tonight’s victory is a testament to how much our district believes in the collective values we are fighting for and how much they’re willing to do to help us overcome defeat,” Omar said. “This win is for them and everyone who still believes that hate, division and regression will not be the legacy of the Fifth.”
Samuels, meanwhile, told MinnPost that he thought the people of the district were more centrist-oriented.
“And it’s very hard to beat an incumbent,” Samuels added.
In his concession speech, Samuels said, “the fact that we could be 2.5 points behind an incumbent in the United States Congress says that if the playing field were even; if this were not an incumbent challenger situation, we would win this race.”
He also told his supporters, “My only hope is that my opponent will have learned a lesson from this,” and would now give Omar “all the support we can.”
“We’re not going to sabotage,” he said.
Samuels was an adept fundraiser who received last-minute help from a political action committee called Make a Difference MN05 that, according to reports filed with the Federal Communications Commission, spent more than $430,000 worth of advertising air time in the last two weeks of the race promoting Samuels as the best candidate for Democratic voters in the Minneapolis and north metro district.
Vance Opperman, the CEO and president of a private investment company and one of the founders of the Make a Difference MN05 PAC, said the last-minute effort to boost Samuels was a reaction by some loyal DFLers to positions Omar had taken on several issues.
“Many of us were unhappy that Omar did not support the infrastructure bill,” Opperman said, a reference to a massive road construction and broadband expansion bill that was at the top of President Biden’s legislative agenda.
Opperman said those who tried to give Samuels a boost before the election were also unhappy with Omar’s rejection of a Russia-oil sanction bill and the congresswoman’s support for a charter amendment that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety. Called Question 2, the amendment was defeated by a vote of 56 to 44 percent last year.
Meanwhile, Samuels, who cast himself as a moderate and provided a sharp contrast to Omar’s progressiveness, was a leader of opposition to Question 2.
At his election watch party at the Hilton Canopy, attended by about 200 supporters, Carolyn Holl said she was “feeling very disappointed,” with the results of the race.
“He’s just a solid, reasonable man who’s looking to the future with wide eyes, who understands what you can and can’t accomplish,” Holl said of Samuels.
Omar also defeated two other Democrats in the primary race, AJ Kern and Albert Ross.
Meanwhile, Republican Brad Finstad handily beat Jeremy Munson to face off against Democrat Jeff Ettinger, who vanquished his Democratic opponents to face off in November’s general election to fill the 1st District congressional seat in the next Congress.
But another race on the ballot to determine whether Finstad or Ettinger serves out the remainder of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s term in this Congress has not been called.
The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office said on Monday the results of that special election would be delayed because “alternate results reporting process is being used” for each race.
The reason for this is that the primary was held in the newly configured 1st District – whose boundary lines were changed by redistricting – while the special election was held in the precincts that belonged to the 1st District before redistricting. Early returns showed Finstad with a lead in the race.
Ettinger, a former Hormel executive who staked out a centrist position in his race against Finstad, has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and canceled the election watch party in his hometown of Austin. His campaign said it preferred not to comment on the race until the final results were in.
Finstad is a former state legislator and farmer who served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Trump administration.
In thanking his supporters at a watch party in Sleepy Eye on Tuesday night, Finstad acknowledged the uncertainty in the special election race, where results were trickling in.
“We’ll see how the rest of the night goes but I guess we wake up tomorrow and we’re going on to November,” Finstad said.
Later in the evening, Finstad took to the stage with his wife and seven children to tell supporters he looked forward to representing the district and said the country was “at a crossroads.”
The victor of the special election will hold an incumbent’s advantage over his rival.
Voters on Tuesday also gave Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th, a win over her Democratic rival, Amane Badhasso, an Ethiopian refugee who came to Minnesota as a child after living in a with her family in a camp in Nairobi, Kenya. McCollum won the race with more than 83% of the vote.
“We worked hard until the end and it paid off for me,” McCollum said.
First elected to represent the 4th District in 2000, McCollum is an ally and confidant of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and has benefitted from the seniority system in Congress, which rewards lawmakers with staying power. That system helped win McCollum a choice chairmanship on the House Appropriations Committee with oversight of the nation’s massive defense budget.
In November, McCollum will face Republican May Lor Xiong, who won her party’s primary Tuesday evening.
Another incumbent, Rep. Pete Stauber, R-8th, easily won his primary against Harry Robb Welty. Jen Schultz won the Democratic primary in the district and will challenge Stauber in the fall.
Walker Orenstein reported from Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, and Ava Kian reported from Minneapolis.