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No, Minnesota Democrats did not choose ‘boring, conventional, and white’ in the primary

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
State Rep. Ilhan Omar celebrating her CD5 primary victory on Tuesday night.

When the dust settled from Minnesota’s primary elections on Tuesday, at least one major national outlet had a read on the results: Minnesota Democrats, along with their brethren around the Midwest, had resoundingly decided to hand the baton to “boring, conventional, and white” men, according to Politico.

Based on the victory of Rep. Tim Walz — a six-term member of Congress from Mankato — in the DFL governor primary, along with the triumphs of veteran Democrats like Richard Cordray in Ohio and Tony Evers in Wisconsin, Politico’s David Siders concluded, “Democrats across the Midwest are opting for a conventional cast of technocrats and long-time public officials in the party’s first response to Donald Trump’s 2016 victories.”

But if you looked anywhere down the ballot in Minnesota, it’d be instantly clear that this take was obviously, hopelessly wrong. Instead of a victory lap for the Democratic old guard, Tuesday’s results instead looked like a rebuke of it: In key federal races around the state, from Minneapolis to northern and southern Minnesota, primary voters selected young and diverse faces to pick up the party’s banner, representing what observers anticipate is a new generation of DFL leaders.

And in two races where Democrats did select political veterans — the U.S. Senate special election and the open race for Minnesota attorney general — the winners stood out for their outspoken progressive views and the diversity they would bring to their offices.

Young, progressive candidates dominate in CD5, CD8

Tuesday’s biggest DFL rebuke of boring and conventional came in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District, where nearly half of the 130,000-some primary voters preferred state Rep. Ilhan Omar, the 36-year-old freshman legislator who earned international recognition in 2016 for becoming the first Somali woman elected to a legislature in the U.S.

Omar beat out four rivals for the nomination, including Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who was speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011 and was a top DFL rival to then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Anderson Kelliher, who drew 30 percent of the vote, emphasized her political experience and legislative know-how; Omar, meanwhile, energized grassroots progressives with her commitment to mobilizing voters in the district, and with her fealty to progressive policy points like abolishing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The one-time refugee from Somalia got the backing of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who pulled off an upset victory over longtime Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in New York, and who figures to be one of these midterms’ most controversial figures. In a sign of where the party establishment is, Omar also got the official endorsement of CD5 Democrats, as well as Gov. Mark Dayton.

If Omar wins in November, as is expected in this heavily Democratic district, she will be one of at least two of the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress. (The other is Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib.) Like Rep. Keith Ellison before her, Omar could use the CD5 seat to build a national profile and join a vanguard of young progressives.

“We said, our district was ready for a bold vision,” Omar said at her victory event on Tuesday. “We said our district was ready for someone who has more clarity and courage to go to Washington. We said we were going to fight the politics of fear with hope.”

Democratic voters in northeastern Minnesota’s Eighth District also went with a photogenic young progressive: Joe Radinovich, a 32-year old former state legislator. By a safe, 17-point margin, he stood out in a five-candidate field, defeating state Rep. Jason Metsa, an Iron Ranger seen by some Republicans as the most electable Democrat in CD8, as well as former TV journalist Michelle Lee and North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy.

Joe Radinovich celebrating at his downtown Brainerd campaign headquarters
Steve Kohls/Forum News Service
Joe Radinovich celebrating at his downtown Brainerd campaign headquarters on Tuesday night.

A native of the Crow Wing County town of Crosby, Radinovich served one term in St. Paul and worked for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board before managing the successful 2016 re-election bid of retiring Rep. Rick Nolan, and the successful 2017 campaign of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. He based his first run for Congress on a platform of single-payer health care, campaign finance reform, and a $15 an hour minimum wage — betting that they will be political winners in this blue-collar district that has trended Republican in recent elections.

In his upcoming general election match against Republican Pete Stauber — likely to be one of the most competitive U.S. House races in the country — GOP forces are already slamming Radinovich as a far-left liberal.

In a call with MinnPost, Radinovich said he didn’t think of himself as part of a new wave of candidates, but acknowledged there’s a generational shift at work this year.

“We’ve been lucky to have strong leaders here in the Eighth District in the past,” Radinovich said, “and I look forward to carrying that fight to Washington, D.C., on behalf of working people.”

‘Generational change’

To progressive leaders in Minnesota, this fall will see general election candidates who not only look different from the usual, but who will sound and strategize differently, too.

Dan McGrath, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota, said, “you see candidates who are really speaking to younger voters, and people of color, and women in particular, all over the state, not just in urban areas or on college campuses.”

Dan McGrath
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Dan McGrath

He said Democratic primary voters gravitated to candidates with clear visions and platforms, citing Omar and Radinovich. “She is painting a vision that is much broader and frankly more exciting than what we often see here,” he said. “Joe Radinovich is a pretty different candidate than Rick Nolan. That says something about where Democrats are headed and what they’re looking for.”

To observers like Carleton College’s Steven Schier, these primary victories represent a clear changing of the guard for the Minnesota DFL. “I think you’re seeing generational change here,” Schier told MinnPost. “It’s safe to say it’s a more progressive, more multicultural face and agenda for the Democratic Party in the state.”

Tim Lindberg, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota-Morris, said that Tuesday was a relatively good day for upstart, progressive Democrats. “When you focus on old, white guys, you’re forgetting about all the other people who also won yesterday who are younger, progressive, nonwhite candidates,” he said, referencing Politico’s story.

“You can see in Radinovich, in the primary victories by him and a few others, that the progressive faction is growing,” he said. “It isn’t just an anti-Trump blip, and there’s sort of a positive push behind it. … You get the feeling that this progressive push has to do with a positive policy agenda. You don’t need to be super anti-Trump to say, ‘We need single-payer, or we need to legalize recreational marijuana.’ ”

Nationally, left-wing groups hailed primary victories — in particular, Omar’s — as the sign of a new wave of progressive leaders. Jim Dean, the chair of Democracy for America, said Omar will be a “transformative, inclusive populist leader in Congress.”

The group MoveOn said, “Omar’s victory represents the future of the progressive movement.” It also said her victory was a declaration of progressives’ values, which stand in stark contrast to the president’s.

“This historic win should remind Democrats across the country that voters are looking for authentic candidates who will stand up to Trump, resist his attacks on our communities, and protect our freedoms,” MoveOn said.

Other races

Beyond new faces in the Fifth and Eighth Districts, Democrats officially nominated other federal candidates in Minnesota who add to a diverse slate of candidates.

Angie Craig, a Democrat running for the second time against Republican Rep. Jason Lewis, officially became the DFL nominee on Tuesday with no opposition. That race, which Democrats will need to win to take control of the U.S. House, is rated a “toss-up” by most observers. Craig, a former executive at the medical device company St. Jude Medical, would be the first openly gay member of Congress from Minnesota.

In the First Congressional District, Democrat Dan Feehan did not face a competitive primary, and was nominated for a general election contest against Republican Jim Hagedorn. The 35-year-old former Barack Obama official and Iraq War veteran is closer to the center than other Democrats running for Congress, but is new to Minnesota politics and is making his first run for office here.

Minnesota Democrats also overwhelmingly chose U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, who was appointed to the seat vacated by Al Franken in January, by a 60-point margin over former George W. Bush ethics lawyer Richard Painter. Smith is a veteran of DFL politics, having served Gov. Mark Dayton and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, but is just one of 23 women in the Senate. (Her GOP opponent, state Sen. Karin Housley, would be one of a handful of Republican female senators.)

Rep. Keith Ellison won decisively with 50 percent of the vote
MinnPost photo by Mike Dvorak
Rep. Keith Ellison won the DFL attorney general primary decisively with 50 percent of the vote.

In the attorney general race, Rep. Keith Ellison won decisively with 50 percent of the vote, beating out state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, former Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, and former Ramsey county attorney Tom Foley. Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, would be the first Muslim and the first African-American to hold one of the state’s constitutional offices. A longtime chair of Congress’ progressive caucus, Ellison was a notable backer of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

Ellison’s candidacy, however, has been called into question since the congressman’s ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan, came forward before the primary with allegations that he had physically and verbally abused her during their relationship, allegations that Ellison denied.

Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by John Deitering on 08/16/2018 - 11:31 am.

    Do ya mind? CD 6 is running a 27 year old Ian Todd..very progressive. Why did you not even mention endorsed Pellican in atty general race?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/16/2018 - 04:11 pm.

      Serious candidates

      This was an article about candidates that actually have a chance to get elected. Props to Todd for running (this is the first time I’ve heard of him) but he has no chance of winning that district. And Mark Pelican got exactly amount of coverage he deserved. A guy completely unqualified for the job got the endorsement under fluky circumstances and finished 4th with 10 percent of the vote in the primary.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/17/2018 - 09:54 am.

        Not paying attention

        Unfortunately, the complete lack of attention by the voters is the reason that decent candidates like Ian Todd will get ignored. Maybe you’re not in the 6th district, but I’ve been paying attention and it’s not hard to see Mr. Todd. That said, the state DFL party is doing a horrific job supporting these supposedly “unelectable” Democratic candidates. This is why I won’t support the party, but only the candidates. Talk about self-fulfilling prophesies.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/17/2018 - 11:03 am.

          Chicken and egg

          I also give only to candidates and not to the party – I shudder to think how much money was wasted on another endorsed governor candidate who lost.

          Putting that aside, though, the party has limited resources and will spend that money where it will do the most good. That will occasionally go to longshot races, but only where a candidate has demonstrated potential. I don’t live in their congreasional districts, but I have been inundated with information about Angie Craig and Dean Phillips. I have never gotten so much as an email from the Todd campaign. The party can’t create campaigns out of nowhere. You have to give them something to build on

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 08/17/2018 - 08:55 pm.


          The party wrote off the 6th the moment it was redistricted, in 2010, if not in 2000. There are a great many proud and active volunteers that have dedicated a good portion of their lives to get that seat, with nary a wisp of support from the state party. There HAVE been good candidates, and close elections, but as Mr. Terry states, funds are not unlimited, and when the vast majority of the state level leadership comes from areas where the only competitive elections are primaries, it’s not hard to understand the relative lack of desire to try and compete where the going might get rough.

  2. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/16/2018 - 12:14 pm.

    It’s time to take the next necessary step to drag America into the 21st century. White people must be banned from running for political office and their voting franchise must be restricted to local school board elections.

    It may sound harsh, but social justice demands it.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 08/16/2018 - 04:20 pm.

      It doesn’t sound harsh…

      just ludicrous.

    • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 08/16/2018 - 06:15 pm.

      Racism Breeds Racism

      Mr. Senker’s views are so far off the wagon of the First Amendment that his comment should have been deleted before being posted.

      The racism of the colonial days of New England and the eastern colonies, and then our United States, was a shabby period in our history — but followed millennia of the use of slavery and racism — which exists in the U.S. today, as it does around the world.

      The Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus uses racism and economic elitism to offend many non-Black people, and leagues of millionaires and many billionaires, who would exercise economic neighborliness and statesmanship were they not put down by both the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus of my political party.

      Insult lends itself to injury to those who are both quite capable of letting go of much of their wealth, as it lends injury to the financially poorer members of our society. This creates a virtual downward spiral of humanity to mere animalism and anger, as found in Mahayana Buddhist theory on the Ten Worlds (See:

      Mr. Senker’s comments were racist and should not be taken seriously. One question not often answered is: What percentage among African American’s rise to high paying and technologically, spiritually, professionally, and humane stations in life — compared to the the statistics that very well lay out the fact that Whites are by far more impoverished than other racial groups in our community given the sheer number of us.

      Let’s work together to bring a brighter world through common sense, humanism, and the power of numbers and positive psychology and propaganda.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/17/2018 - 11:42 am.

        Sarcasm, Perhaps?

        I believe Mr. Senker’s comment was an attempt at irony, or, as the kids put it, “owning the libs.” The delicate subtlety may have thrown you off. As you correctly point out, the comments should not be talken seriously.

        “The Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus uses racism and economic elitism to offend many non-Black people, and leagues of millionaires and many billionaires, who would exercise economic neighborliness and statesmanship were they not put down by both the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus of my political party.” Calling out racism and economic inequality is essential towards building a more just society. Staying mum about it so we don’t offend the sensibilities of the wealthy isn’t going to accomplish anything. In this context, “economic neighborliness and statesmanship” amounts to nothing more than noblesse oblige and a hope that Our Betters will condescend to offer a hand (“Her, poor boy without a hat, take this ha’penny.”). We should be talking about the dignity of all Americans. Dharma just isn’t in it.

        “One question not often answered is: What percentage among African American’s rise to high paying and technologically, spiritually, professionally, and humane stations in life — compared to the the statistics that very well lay out the fact that Whites are by far more impoverished than other racial groups in our community given the sheer number of us.” This question is not often answered because it makes no sense. Leaving aside the difficulty of quantifying “spiritually, professionally, and humane stations in life,” the idea that Whites (capital W!) are more impoverished because there are more of us belies reality. African Americans have lower per capita incomes, lower overall life expectancies, and are incarcerated at a higher rate than white, I mean, White, people. There are more impoverished whites, but the odds that any individual white person is impoverished are less than the odds that a randomly selected African American will be impoverished.

        I do not understand the second paragraph of your comment. It reads like the branch of Lost Cause revisionism that absolves the Southern States from responsibility for slavery, for their treason in defense of slavery, and for the residual racism that flowed from it.

      • Submitted by ian wade on 08/17/2018 - 01:56 pm.

        I don’t think Mr. Senker’s comment should have been deleted.

        The one solace I find from the aberration of the Trump administration is that it has exposed these people for what they really are. Those that have publicly supported the man will wear a scarlet letter the rest of their lives. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

    • Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 08/16/2018 - 07:57 pm.

      No no no……they have a record of voting for regressive board members

    • Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 08/18/2018 - 02:21 pm.

      white folk

      absolutely not! we need to elect progressives of every stripe and every color — even the white ones, Curt.

  3. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 08/16/2018 - 12:51 pm.


    Let’s not forget the repudiation of the oldest of the old guard-Mike Hatch and his protégé Lori Swanson by progressive Matt Pelikan. Pelikan’s worked diligently for over a year pointing out the shortcomings of the current Attorney General. After Swanson ejected from the AG’s office and campaign she set off a string of vacancies that allowed Omar and Ellison to run.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/16/2018 - 04:13 pm.


      Mark Pelican had nothing to do with Swanson leaving the AGs race and running for governor. He is an irrelevant footnote.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 08/17/2018 - 08:57 pm.

        You’d think

        The poor man owed you money. Nothing like encouraging a new generation of potential political leaders. Get over it, he lost, the point has been made.

  4. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 08/16/2018 - 01:29 pm.

    About the most racist thing I’ve heard in a while…

    “boring, conventional, and white”

    Wasn’t it Candice Owens who changed the words from a New York Times article from “White” to a minority group, posted it on Twitter and got kicked off because the tweet was too racist?

    Maybe the author does not think the above comment is racist, but it is, and it does not belong here in Minnesota.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 08/16/2018 - 03:15 pm.


      You do realize he was quoting a Politico article title? That’s why it’s in quotes, and there is a link to said article.

      And really, THAT’s the most ‘racist’ thing you’ve heard in awhile? Trump disparages non-whites on a weekly, if not daily, basis. The white-power hours on Pravda (Fox ‘News’) every evening demand white racial hegemony.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/16/2018 - 04:27 pm.

        In a Bubble

        A lot of white Americans can go an entire day only encountering other white people. I take Mr. Wallin’s words at face value, whether or not he is among that aforementioned group.

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 08/16/2018 - 11:11 pm.

        It’s still racist…

        Jonathan, when did quoting someone else’s racist phrase make it acceptable?

        Fox news does it, so we can? Politico does it, so we can? When do we learn to be leaders and realize others may be imitating us like this author imitated Politico?

        The author intentionally put the racist phrase in the title of his article then repeated the racist phrase in body of the article. Ethically, he should have denounced the statement for what it is.

  5. Submitted by Barry Peterson on 08/16/2018 - 03:17 pm.

    Enthused about Ilhan despite disagreements with her

    Ilhan has a lot to offer at age-36 and having served only two terms in the MN State House of Representatives. Journalists and other commentators have been keen to point out her great qualities. However, talk in our neighborhood still brings some doubt to Ilhan’s current skills to serve as a Member of Congress.

    Others in our neighborhood who are up on most of the candidates spoke of Ilhan’s lack of background in public speaking. My concerns include her view that sexual harassment should be easier to prove, while stating that those (even the more than one sexual harassment cases in two cases before EEOC in 2017 were either dismissed, or not-guilty findings were issued, or the complainants admitted to not being on the mark about the person who claimed victimized them).

    In a conversation with Ilhan this Spring, she noted that more guidance in our laws about what is and is not appropriate or lawful is not necessary; and that the opportunity for defamation of character lawsuits is the answer. While Ilhan Omar has great gravitas, she, and our community, must not dismiss the notion that none of us are perfect, and that the extreme glory and energy which Ilhan brings to our district and nation will require tweaks throughout the years. This is not meant to defame our prideful and gifted Congressional district primary winner, but to endorse humility, due diligence, and putting one’s foot in the shoes of another.

    The fact of sexual harassment and rape, as I’ve tried to share in previous comments, is that the newest figures show that while 1 in 4 women are harassed, abused or raped by men, the same is true of 1 in 6 men who have received the same maladjusted behaviors from women, ais I, personally, have experienced.

    I have thrown my spiritual, political and financial support to Ilhan since her great achievement of winning the most recent primary, but a paradigm shift in the way in which our community thinks about men and women as being both victims of sexual crimes and misdemeanors must change.

    In this one area, which is the only area which Ilhan and I disagree, we find not a gender-specific problem of who is victimizing whom; but a more major public health issue and social issue of recognizing reality and the training that many of us received as children and adolescents during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

    Finally, I, too, am offend by the terms “boring old white men,” as this dismisses the gifts and wisdom that many of us, through experience and study, meditation, and conversations have developed over the years.

    At some point, those in their thirties will also become “aged” in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and older — as our senior statesmen who have been the young innovators of their generations — including Vice Presidents Humphrey and Mondale, Governor Wendell Anderson, President Barack Obama, and unnamed others who are either deceased or now in their mid-50’s to early 90’s.

  6. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 08/16/2018 - 10:41 pm.

    Politics of joy

    Reporters go on like a broken record how divided the DFL was in 2016? This is 2018. The unnatural disaster named Trump happened. He was a sneak attack on our nation like Pearl Harbor and 9-11, but from within.

    I am one of those boring, white, retired male suburbanites. I want kids like mine carrying the DFL party forward, with experienced hands like Walz and Klobuchar helping them find their way. This is a relay and we baby boomers have taken it as far as we are supposed to.

    All Americans are equal. I agree a lot more with people who are my exact opposites in all ways – age, gender, race etc. – as opposed to a lot of people that look and act like me. If these young people crush racism, sexism and all the others isms that have allow Trump and those before him to try to turn our deeply flawed, but great country in a not great place for so many to live, how could I be unhappy with that?

    Republicans offer no future. They just want to keep our deeply depressing status quo where they feel good about feeling less anxious and depressed than everyone else.

    Young people – here is a retro idea to work with from the deepest roots of the DFL. The politics of joy. Source – Hubert Humphrey. Think of the two meanings of “political party” – working on great issues and deeply enjoying the process. This is the deep emotional satisfaction of taking on seemingly impossible goals that make everyone’s live better and figuring out how to do these.

    All the great progressive ideas which have made oiur country an aspiration come from a few young upstarts who don’t take no for an answer. Think of the mix of young people we have here in Minnesota. The potential for new ideas is unlimited.

    My message to reporters. First think about what conventional things you are saying about today’s news. Then look deeper as there are currents under the surface going in opposite direction.

    My sense is that Trump is about to implode. One really bad stock market would do it and many other things. He is a guy who is on very thin ice and oblivious to it.

    As we would say in Minnesota, he isn’t from here. Minnesotans picked him fourth in the primary. His endorsement by Trump means nothing to those who plan to vote for him, but could turn a decent second place position into a landslide. Should tgat happen, expect Minnesota Republicans to want him gone.

  7. Submitted by MARY RADFORD on 08/18/2018 - 08:32 am.

    Observation from a former Minnesotan

    As one with a long history in both the 5th and 8th Districts I am proud to see the two candidates brought forward to November. It is time to transition leadership to the next generation. Go Minnesota!! P.S. Please do the right thing in the gubernatorial race – I’ve lived under Scott Walker for two terms and it’s not any fun.

  8. Submitted by Michael Ofjord on 08/19/2018 - 12:40 pm.

    white men

    Yes, there are boring white men politicians, boring because they haven’t been outside of their own white setting. Yet, I’d argue that Bill Clinton’s white wife, Hillary, is more boring then he is. And you know you’d never get away with boring white women in the headlines. NOW, among others, would be on your case before the sentence was finished. It is simply not allowed in any mainstream media, but boring white men is.

    Don’t be sexist. I am glad that those who run represent the newer America, as that is how it needs to be, but I’d caution that any particular identity guarantees they will be good for America.

    I am thinking of Martin Luther King’s statement about not judging by color of the skin, but content of character. He was right, and what he said will always be true.

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