WASHINGTON — Although it’s early in the campaign cycle, Rep. Ilhan Omar is drawing challengers and, once again, the politically powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is trying to defeat her.
Pro-Israel donors and political action committees affiliated with AIPAC have spent heavily to bolster the campaigns of Democrats who launched primary challenges to Omar, D-5th District.
The first challenger they helped was Antone Melton-Meaux, who received millions of dollars from pro-Israel donors, but was handily defeated by Omar in the Democratic primary of 2020.
In 2022, AIPAC gave $350,000 to a group that supported former Minnesota council member Don Samuels, who nearly defeated Omar in the Democratic primary.
Samuels criticized AIPAC and pro-Israel donors for not coming to his aid in the same way they helped Melton-Meaux. He is considering a challenge to Omar again, said former campaign manager Joe Radinovich.
“Don came within 2,500 votes,” Radinovich said. “I think anyone in that position would give a second thought to taking that challenge again.”
However, according to Jewish Insider, AIPAC is now pushing Minneapolis City Councilmember LaTrisha Vetaw to challenge Omar.
Vetaw, who represents the city’s 4th Ward in north Minneapolis, and like Samuels, is considered a moderate, did not return several calls and emails requesting comment.
But Jewish Insider said in recent months AIPAC has met with Vetaw and is engaged in ongoing conversations to convince her to enter the primary. The story was based on unnamed “multiple sources familiar with AIPAC’s outreach.” AIPAC did not return several requests for comment.
Vetaw is serving her first term on the Minneapolis City Council. Before that, she had a an at-large seat on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. She is actively running for re-election to her city council seat.
Tim Petersen, a retired National Guard recruiter who owns a consulting business, is also eyeing the race. And Omar is being challenged from the left by Minneapolis attorney Sara Gad.
AIPAC appears to be aggressively recruiting candidates to challenge Democrats who boycotted Israeli President Issac Herzog’s speech to a joint session of Congress last month, including Rep. Jamal Bowman, D-N.Y.,
Omar and Bowman also voted against a GOP-led resolution that rejected claims that Israel is a racist state, something Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, had claimed before walking back those remarks.
Omar and other members of Congress targeted by AIPAC have been critical of Israel’s record on human rights.
So has Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th District, who has had numerous confrontations with AIPAC. She also failed to attend Herzog’s speech and voted “present” on the GOP-led resolution concerning Israel. But Bill Harper, political adviser to McCollum’s re-election campaign, said the congresswoman had not been targeted.
“I’m not aware of any AIPAC activity in the 4th Congressional District DFL circles at all,” Harper said.
Omar lost her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and other Republican, including Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, accused her of making “antisemitic remarks.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus political action committee, said he and the caucus would support Omar’s re-election.
“At a time when Republicans are erasing Black history, attacking abortion rights, and undermining democracy, Ilhan Omar is a champion for the rights of Minnesotans,” Meeks said in a statement. “She has delivered over $40 million in funding to her district, including vital funds to rebuild Lake Street, investments in entrepreneurs and food availability in the Northside, and skills training for clean energy. Despite constant racist attacks from MAGA Republicans, Ilhan consistently shows up for her constituents and we are proud to endorse her re-election campaign.”
Omar has raised more than $1.15 million for her re-election next year.
But AIPAC’s is known for its ability to raise and spend a lot of political money. For instance, the United Democracy Project, a super PAC affiliated with AIPAC, quietly contributed $350,000 to a separate group that boosted Samuels and raised about $36 million in the last campaign cycle and spent about $29 million.
That super PAC has raised another $9 million in the first six months of this year, according to the Federal Election Commission.