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For what it’s worth, CD5 DFLers endorsed Ilhan Omar. But what’s it worth?

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
State Rep. Ilhan Omar was endorsed for Congress by the Fifth District DFL on the second ballot, earning 68 percent of support.

At one point during the 5th Congressional District DFL’s special convention on Sunday, the candidates in the running to succeed Rep. Keith Ellison were asked that inevitable question: Will you suspend your campaign if you are not endorsed?

At normal endorsing conventions — where die-hard activists convene and deliberate over who should receive the party’s official stamp of approval — answering this question in the negative makes a candidate a pariah, at least in that moment, and guarantees him or her boos and heckles.

But Sunday’s gathering was no ordinary convention: With the incumbent Ellison filing to run for attorney general on June 5, following current Attorney General Lori Swanson’s last-minute bid for governor, 5th District Democrats had no obvious opportunity to endorse any of the five candidates who filed to run for the seat after Ellison’s announcement.

With a week’s notice, then, leadership of the 5th District DFL announced they’d hold a convention so delegates could endorse a candidate. But with the filing deadline having come and gone, the five candidates in the race were guaranteed to appear on the ballot in the Aug. 14 primary.

So, the two leading candidates at the convention — state Rep. Ilhan Omar and state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray — both answered that they would not suspend their campaigns if they failed to get the endorsement. Instead of boos and shouts of disapproval, they were met with a few scattered groans. A man got up from his chair and walked to the door, but not before yelling: “Motion to adjourn!”

Though the convention ultimately completed its business — Omar was endorsed on the second ballot, earning 68 percent of support — that wayward delegate summed up a viewpoint and mood held by no small number of 5th District Democrats: Why was this convention happening, and what would its endorsement really mean, anyway?

Convention critics

When the CD5 DFL executive committee announced the special convention on June 7, they wrote in a Facebook post that Ellison’s decision to run for attorney general created “confusion and interest” over how the party would handle the primary.

“The elected delegates of our party unit deserve the chance to express their opinion in the primary race, and if they so choose, endorse a candidate,” the post read. “It is also in the best interests of the DFL to hold a convention as soon as possible in order to give any potential endorsement the most weight.”

The post said the decision for a special convention was supported by an “overwhelming majority” of the CD5 DFL’s executive committee. But many Democrats, from rank-and-filers to prominent activists, blasted the decision. That the convention was so hastily arranged — and that it was scheduled on the afternoon of Father’s Day — made them question the fairness and legitimacy of the process.

“On a summer weekend when I would imagine most of the 700,000 people who live in the district have no idea it’s happening, a few hundred people will put the full weight of the overwhelmingly dominant party behind one person,” wrote former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak on Facebook.

Other critics shared concerns that the delegates who would attend the special convention were selected when there was no prospect of a CD5 primary. Because candidates traditionally work to cultivate support through the various stages of the delegate selection process — from caucus night to district conventions and onward — Sunday’s convention would be particularly unusual.

Two candidates in the CD5 race, former Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and activist Jamal Abdulahi, opted not to compete for the endorsement at the convention, citing concerns about the entire process, from the truncated timeline to it taking place on Father’s Day.

In a statement, Kelliher said that the convention “needlessly limits discussion and debate and does not represent our Democratic values. … This primary is for the 700,000 Minnesotans of the 5th Congressional District and should not be decided by a small group of people.”

Abdulahi, who founded the DFL’s Somali Caucus, said in a statement that “I find the hastily scheduled ‘convention’ for Sunday 6/17 is antithetical [to] everything I have worked for.”

A ‘historic moment’

Two of the leading candidates in the race, Omar and Torres Ray, backed the endorsement process, and they packed the auditorium at south Minneapolis’ Clara Barton Open School with their supporters, clad in blue shirts for Omar and white for Torres Ray.

A significant portion of the 187 delegates who participated in the process, however, didn’t necessarily endorse the convention. Jeff Gonzalez, a delegate from north Minneapolis’ Senate District 59, said “it’s too soon to be making this kind of decision. We’ve had very, very little time to actually be able to research the candidates… To be fully transparent, let candidates make their case to the voting population.”

Gonzalez said he planned to vote “no endorsement” when it came time to cast his ballot. Neal Kelly, a delegate from Minneapolis, said he had planned to do the same — but changed his mind after the candidates addressed the convention.

Both Omar and Torres Ray gave passionate speeches that touted their immigrant backgrounds and emphasized their voices as essential in the era of Donald Trump. Torres Ray drew loud cheers when she told delegates to “tell President Trump you are sending a wise Latina to Washington;” Omar got a similar response for her calls to abolish the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and to end private prisons. (Frank Drake, who challenged Ellison in 2016 as a Republican but is running this year as a Democrat, also attended the convention, but appeared to have very little delegate support.)

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray drew loud cheers when she told delegates to “tell President Trump you are sending a wise Latina to Washington.”

Ultimately, when the first ballot results came in, only 15 percent of delegates voted for no endorsement. Thirty percent voted for Torres Rey, and nearly 55 percent voted for Omar, putting her close to the 60 percent threshold required to earn the endorsement.

Before the second ballot of voting opened, Torres Ray addressed the convention in a way that suggested she might concede the endorsement. She praised Omar and noted the “historic moment” that saw “two amazing immigrant women” running for Congress in Minnesota, but then reiterated “we are running in a primary” and told her supporters that she would not be offended if they went home.

Omar followed, and implored the delegates to remain at the convention. “I have never walked away from a caucus or convention,” she said, to loud cheers. The delegates that remained for the second ballot rewarded Omar with the party endorsement on the second ballot: Omar got 68 percent to Torres Ray’s 24.4 percent.

Surrounded by supporters chanting her name, Omar told the convention she was “excited about the movement we have started, and I’m excited about what it’s going to mean for us going into the 14th of August.”

What’s the point?

As the endorsed candidate, Omar will now benefit from the institutional support of the DFL campaign apparatus, which includes access to voter information and volunteer muscle. She also can claim strong support from the activist heart of the CD5 DFL primary electorate, but those leaving the convention had different ideas about what that means for the primary, and whether or not Omar’s victory makes her a clear favorite to win on August 14.

State Rep. Raymond Dehn, who represents a downtown and north Minneapolis House district, has endorsed Omar. He told MinnPost that her support extends far beyond a gathering of a few hundred activists.

“This was not just about building support around an endorsement of the CD5 convention,” Dehn said. “She’s been building support for a long, long time. The things she’s fighting for are issues that affect everyday people. So I think the significance is we have an incredible person who’s been endorsed for CD5, and there’s some other things that come with that — she’s a Muslim woman, an immigrant, but first and foremost, I think about an incredible individual who will be able to carry on the legacy of the work that Congressman Ellison started back in 2006.”

Shay Berkowitz, a delegate who raised a motion to adjourn before the second ballot, expressed affection for Omar but said the endorsement process that day was “fake” and meaningless.

“This race is going to be won in the primary,” she said. “And to convene delegates that were never elected or signed on, myself included, to do an endorsement process in 10 days is not broad enough, inclusive enough, for who we are as the 5th CD. It diminishes the value, the importance, the significance of the endorsement process.”

Berkowitz said that Democrats should have been out demonstrating against the Trump administration and its policy of separating families at the border, instead of wasting time and energy on a convention. “That’s not who we are,” she said. “It doesn’t bode well for the DFL.”

State Rep. Karen Clark, a delegate supportive of Torres Ray, said she favored not having an endorsement, and worried that the process would turn people off from the process in a critical election year. “We need everybody together. I’m afraid that some of what may have happened today was a loss of momentum for that,” Clark said. “I think some of those people feel closed down, and probably are not going to do too much.”

With 57 days to go until the primary, the five candidates in the race will now make their case to voters, party endorsement or no. Omar will not be the only candidate to cultivate a donor coalition and garner endorsements — Torres Ray and Kelliher have long-standing support bases of their own in the district — and the primary is expected to be hard-fought.

But the DFL’s official role in this fight is done, and after sustaining heated criticism over the process, CD5 chair Brandon Schorsch said he was pleased about the outcome of the convention.

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
State Rep. Ilhan Omar State Rep. Ilhan Omar hugs Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey during the DFL Party endorsement convention.

“The more that people know they have agency to come in and make decisions because they are shareholders and stakeholders in an organization, I think delegates did that today, and I’m happy delegates came and made the decision they felt was right,” Schorsch said.

“I think this is a good thing for the party as an organization,” he said. “We have endorsements up and down the ticket, now that means our teams are able to go and do direct coordination.”

Standing on the convention floor as delegates filed out and Omar’s team celebrated, Schorsch posed for a photo he wouldn’t have been able to take a few minutes prior: smiling and holding a big, blue Ilhan for Congress sign.

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Comments (18)

Missing Factoids

The Strib reported the convention turnout was 200. How many dkegates is CD5 supposed to have. No time to have precinct caucuses, so the 200 can not be thought to reflect on the district as a whole. I have a hunch this will be more damaging to the Caucus-Convention process than is now thought.

Delegate count

My quick count from the DFL call adds up to around 230.

Predictable outcry of foul play

I worked at the State DFL headquarters for 7 years and raised money for DFL candidates & causes for many years. Still, I am indifferent to the endorsement process-- maybe its time HAS passed. However, the one thing that has been true since I started in 1979 is that endorsement-losers always cry foul-- that rules are rigged-- the meeting was illegal-- the chair was unfair-- the list is endless. If you don't like the caucus-convention process-- don't run for party endorsement. It strikes me that she won a fairly called and run process-- in accordance with the party constitution. My guess is she will win the primary and the general elections. And might I remind party-folk that all of this was started when the wizards-in Rochester opted to teach Swanson a lesson-- mow my lawn or you don't get my endorsement vote. If the convention endorsed incumbent Swanson on the first ballot-- most of this mad scramble would not be happening. Enjoy.

As someone who wasn't in

As someone who wasn't in Rochester, it seems to me that an alternate explanation is that Swanson could have listened to her party, and taken steps to be a more responsive candidate and Attorney General. Instead, she took her ball and went home. No one is 'owed' a first ballot endorsement. If Ms. Swanson's argument is that since she didn't get what she wanted, now she 'has' to throw the rest of the state wide races into turmoil, she won't get my vote for Governor either. I'm not impressed by "look what you made me do" arguments.

No

When a 3-term attorney general can’t get endorsed over a guy a few years out of law school who is completely unqualified for the job, the only explanation is that the convention delegates are completely out-of-touch with reality and that the endorsement process is a joke.

Predictable

The reason there are complaints of foul play is that there often is foul play. Its a corrupt and terrible process.

corruption

Corruption in the Democratic Party exists from the national level down as was shown in the primary/caucus process in 2016 when the party bosses chose their candidate in advance. The Democratic Party establishment is the reason we have a President Trump.

Nonsense

Clinton was the nominee because she received millions more votes than Sanders did. In fact, it was Sanders who benefitted from the corrupt and undemocratic caucus process. If all states had primaries instead of disenfranchising large numbers of voters through caucuses, Clinton’s win over Sanders would have been even more overwhelming.

Version of history

Wasserman Schultz resigned, Brazile admitted corruption, but the Clinton supporters continue to blame everybody but themselves for a President Trump. Serious corruption existed in New York and other primary states. I prefer to believe Chris Hedges' version of history, along with other reputable historians, rather than Clinton backers who continue to whine about her loss.

False

There is no “version of history” to believe. There are only the facts. And the fact is that Clinton was the nominee because she got millions more votes. It wasn’t super-delegates. It wasn’t some Trump-esque claim of corruption. It wasn’t DNC insiders. It was because voters overwhelmingly preferred her to Sanders.

And again, if there was “corruption” it all benefitted Sanders. In the West Virginia primary, nearly half of Sanders voters said they were voting for Trump in the general no matter what. They didn’t support Sanders - they just wanted to hurt Clinton. But voters like that (and it other states) made it seem closer than it really was. And again, its the corrupt caucus process (the subject of this story) that benefitted Sanders. Sanders won the Washington state caucuses, but lost the primary where there were far more voters. Sanders’s greatest success came where the most voters were disenfranchised.

Clinton was a terrible candidate and did plenty on her own to lose to Trump. But she still beat Sanders handily. Obama was great and beat Clinton, and the superdelegates came around and weren’t going to overturn the will of the voters. Sanders and his supporters, however, wanted the superdelegates to do just that. To reject the will of the voters. To take the votes of millions of black voters (with whom Sanders did exceptionally poorly) and throw them away. That is the real superdelegate scandal here. Not that elected Democrats supported a candidate who had campaigned and fund-raised for so many of them over a guy who never lifted a finger to help anyone else.

If Sanders had any integrity at all, he would be talking about how unfair caucuses are. But since he doesn’t and because they benefitted him, instead he’s fostered a bunch of conspriacy nonsense backed up by “reputable historians.” It’s Trump-level behavior. Its really unbecoming for a Democrat. But he’s not really a Democrat (other then when it suits him) so what can you do.

Clinton lost

I don't why we have to keep pointing out this fact to erstwhile Clinton supporters but for some reason they remain confused. The only false narrative still banging around the Clinton defeat is that the perfect candidate somehow managed to lose the election to Donald Trump. Yes, Democrats put a weak and deeply flawed candidate on the POTUS ballot, no one is suggesting they did otherwise. The point of these nomination and endorsement battles is to prevent Democrats from making the same mistakes again.

You can’t be serious!

The DNC ran a fair race? Get real. How about Wasserman-Schultz limiting the number of debates and selecting ridiculous times to air them—for starters. The DNC is the biggest obstacle we have to a Blue Wave this fall. Accept that there are problems the monied DNC people are unwilling to address because their fat-cat corporate donors won’t allow it.

endorsement

A lot of what's happened here has, left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. I see a lot of careerism but not much policy. Ellison is leaving Congress because he is bored, and thinks another job could hold his interest. Omar seems bent on achieving one historical milestone after another without actually doing anything. Margaret is running for the job because it seems to be a promotion. And who the heck knows what's going through Lori Swanson's head? Meanwhile, nobody in the DFL is doing anything that seems intended to actually win the general election.

General election

I’d put money on the Republicans winning the governor and AG races. The idea that Keith Ellison could win a statewide race is facepalm-worthy.

Democratic Process

Thank you for this interesting and nuanced reporting.

It is understandable that some delegates considered this special convention "fake" and meaningless. “And to convene delegates that were never elected or signed on, myself included, to do an endorsement process" gave legitimacy to the criticism. I also read the June 12th CD5 DFL Rule Committee post on Facebook page that they planned to hold a two hour meeting on June 14th "to discuss proposed changes to the upcoming Special Endorsing Convention's Agenda and Rules". Although this meeting was "open to public", the room "is only designed to hold 25 people". No wonder there have been criticism about the process. Going forward, we DFLers should do better to be inclusive. Let the voters decide on August 14th!

Five Hours!

MPR reported that this took FIVE hours! For TWO ballots! And this was a special convention, so this should have been the only item of business.

They must have been trying to drive a stake through the caucus system.

More on the Democratic Process

Whoever wins the DFL nomination for CD5 will almost surely end up being its representative in Congress. This person will need the experience to hit the ground running and the ability to navigate through a maelstrom of opposing forces. Given the abrupt nature of the convention, the endorsement process was reduced primarily to an evaluation of oratory not substance.

This is insufficient to vet the candidates. This country is experiencing a crisis, in foreign policy, on immigration, on women's and LGBT rights, on fiscal and trade policy and on the preservation of the institutions of the Republic unlike anything I've ever seen in this country in my lifetime. The DFL leadership failed in its responsibility to establish a process whereby candidates would be able to present their strategy for best dealing with this crisis.

I hope that regardless of the endorsement, between now and the primary we'll give all the candidates a fair shot at making their case for dealing with this crisis.

SD 64A was Similar

Erin Murphy currently represents 64A in the House. At the regular 64A convention in March there was no endorsement process. The Sunday of state convention weekend we finally had our 64A convention with three outstanding candidates Amanda Karls, Kaohly Her, and Meg Luger. There was a modest push for "No Endorsement" which received 11% on the first ballot. Her was close on the second ballot and then won on the third after Karls and Luger dropped out. I thought that with three talented and ambitious candidates that a primary would be the best way to pick a DFL nominee, however Her was the only candidate to file on the DFL side so there will not be a primary. The fact that nobody is contesting a primary seems to indicate that the candidates actually wanted the convention to decide things for the electorate. There were about 120 people at this convention so 60% was 72 people. It is crazy to me that 72 people essentially chose the state rep since our district is heavily DFL. The process needs to be improved. Contested primaries with ranked choice voting would be much better.