WASHINGTON – Don Samuels, a former Minneapolis City Council member who came within a hair’s breadth of defeating Rep. Ilhan Omar in last year’s Democratic primary, has decided he wants to challenge the progressive congresswoman again.
As he did before, Samuels plans to run to the right of Omar, but he’s shifting his message a bit. Last time Samuels took on Omar, who has represented the 5th Congressional District since 2019, he attacked the progressive lawmaker as soft on crime and as a supporter of the “defund the police” movement that was provoked by the murder of George Floyd.
That tactic seemed to work, as he lost to Omar – a master at fending off challengers – by fewer than 2,500 votes.
Samuels said he still plans to run on a public safety platform, but he also speaks of a “crisis in leadership,” brought on by extremists on the far right and far left of American politics and of an “exhausted majority” of American voters.
“Some people aren’t even watching the news,” Samuels told MinnPost.
He said he has “a history of bringing people together” and will try to convince 5th District voters that Omar does not. Samuels said the Democratic lawmaker even splits with the majority of her own party on legislation that would benefit her constituents, including President Biden’s massive infrastructure bill, to make a point.
Omar said she voted against the infrastructure bill because it failed to include Biden’s original requests for “childcare, paid leave, health care, climate action, housing, education, and a roadmap to citizenship.”
“I cannot in good conscience support the infrastructure bill without voting on the President’s transformative agenda first,” Omar said in a statement when the infrastructure bill was approved two years ago.
In a statement provided for this story, Omar indicated she will run for reelection on the strength of her record in Congress.
“I’ve brought over $40 million to the district in the form of community projects — including a brand-new affordable housing facility for veterans in Robbinsdale that I toured this weekend,” Omar said. “As a leader of the House Budget Committee and Progressive Caucus, I’ve continued to fight for the progressive values Minnesotans sent me to advocate for — whether it’s fighting to codify Roe v. Wade into law, pushing for historic climate legislation, addressing the opioid crisis or fighting for an assault weapons ban.”
Samuels isn’t the only DFLer trying to unseat Omar. The lawmaker has already attracted two other Democratic opponents, Tim Peterson, an Air Force veteran from Minneapolis, and attorney Sarah Gad.
Somali-born Omar has another, very powerful opponent: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has spent millions of dollars helping Omar’s former rivals and is expected to do so again.
Right before the August 2022 Democratic primary, AIPAC spent $350,000 in independent expenditures to help the Samuels campaign. After the election, Samuels said he was disappointed that help did not come earlier and did not involve more money or more AIPAC-related donors. The Democrat who tried and failed to unseat Omar in 2020, Andre Melton-Meaux, received millions of dollars from AIPAC- affiliated political action committees and pro-Israel donors.
Samuels told MinnPost that AIPAC has apologized for not lending more support.
“They kind of regretted their decision not to help me,” he said.
Samuels said he agreed with Omar’s concerns about women and children in Gaza who are being killed by Israeli fire but slammed Omar for what he called a failure to condemn Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel.
“She could not admit to the horror of that,” Samuels said. “She doesn’t have the balance that’s needed.”
Omar has condemned the attack on Israel, but did not vote for a House resolution that called for all nations to “unequivocally condemn Hamas’ brutal war.” She said her “no” vote was based on the resolution’s failure to consider the deaths of Palestinians in the war.
“While the resolution rightly acknowledges and mourns the lives taken by Hamas, I cannot support a resolution that fails to acknowledge and mourn the lives of Palestinians taken by the Israeli military,” Omar said.
It’s not only Omar who is in AIPAC’s bullseye. Other “Squad” members are, too, and they were on AIPAC’s list months before Hamas attacked Israel and the progressive lawmakers began calling for a ceasefire of the hostilities that have killed more than 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza, many of them children.
Reps. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, and Summer Lee, D-Pennsylvania, have also drawn primary challengers who cite their criticism of Israel as an issue. And another Squad member, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-New York, is also likely to face a challenger in a race in which Israel is a defining issue.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and other House Democratic leaders have quickly reassured AIPAC-targeted progressives they planned to continue standing behind all of the party’s incumbents.
Meanwhile, progressive lawmakers have attacked AIPAC as raising millions of dollars from Republicans and spending disingenuously in Democratic primaries.
“Right-wing donors have targeted me since I first entered public life, so I am not surprised that my challenger previously received contributions from Harlan Crow, the same far-right billionaire who bankrolled Clarence Thomas,” Omar said. “Nor am I surprised that (Samuels) took $350,000 from AIPAC’s super-PAC — a Super PAC funded by Donald Trump’s largest donors like Paul Singer.”
According to the Federal Election Commission, Crow donated $2,900 to the Samuels campaign last year. AIPAC maintains it is a bipartisan organization that accepts money from members of both parties.
“Pro-Israel Americans from across the political and ideological spectrum support Democratic and Republican candidates we endorse who stand up for the US-Israel alliance,” said AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann.
AIPAC did not respond to questions about its relationship with Samuels.