MINNEAPOLIS – Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota battled a well-funded lead antagonist Tuesday, kept the re-election campaigns running smoothly for the first-time Democratic Women in Congress known as the Squad, and sent a message to Washington about the stamina of the new ones progressive votes of the party.
Ms. Omar, who made history in 2018 by becoming the first Somali American to be elected to Congress, as well as the first naturalized citizen of African descent and the first Minnesota woman of color to do so, secured victory after spending it Washington’s first two years in the spotlight.
In the deep blue district, Ms. Omar’s main success on Tuesday practically assures that she will serve a second term in Congress. Late on Tuesday she led her main opponent Antone Melton-Meaux by more than 15 percentage points.
“In Minnesota, we know organized people will always beat organized money,” Ms. Omar wrote on Twitter. “Tonight our movement not only won. We have earned a mandate to change. Despite external efforts to defeat us, we broke voter turnout records again. Despite the attacks, our support has only grown. ”
Mr Melton-Meaux had received substantial financial support from national groups in the hope that the incumbent would be ousted. In the second quarter of 2020, Mr. Melton-Meaux raised six times as much as Ms. Omar, and analysis by The MinnPost found that about 20 percent of his donations were pooled into large dollars with the help of pro-Israel political action committees. Mr. Melton-Meaux also received recognition from The Star Tribune, the flagship of the region.
But the Democrats have teamed up over the past few weeks to help Ms. Omar, making bedfellows of progressives like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and establishment figures like spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi.
More than a referendum on her first term, the race was stirred up by the two factors that changed all facets of political life in 2020: the coronavirus pandemic and the national protests against racial inequality and police brutality that began in May after George Floyd killed in Minneapolis. The unrest was particularly acute in Minneapolis, where fire and chaos raged for days. A police station was burned down.
Ms. Omar and Mr. Melton-Meaux both stressed the need for social justice and an end to systemic racism. But Ms. Omar’s vision of progressive change went further when she accepted calls to restructure the police force as a whole and divert money to invest in social services.
The virus also forced most of the campaigns in and online. Some observers thought this might further underscore Mr Melton-Meaux’s financial advantage as he flooded air waves for weeks.
Mr Melton-Meaux had tried to get the election to a referendum on Ms. Omar’s national profile by making a similar argument that did not work in Michigan when Representative Rashida Tlaib hit back a challenger who tried to characterize her as being too progressive and to be viewed nationally for the district.
On election day, Ms. Omar appeared in public several times, a sign that her election campaign did not take anything for granted.
In the afternoon, she wooed voters in a Minneapolis market, ordered Mexican food, and dined with staff with no sign of concern.
“Everything about this elementary school felt unsettling, from the money to the overtly xenophobic news,” she said. “But that’s the fifth. This is Minneapolis. This is the place to not only be frank about how excited you are to have immigrants in your neighborhood, but they voted one into Congress. “
Later, at an evening campaign rally in Dinkytown, a neighborhood in Minneapolis where Ms. Omar likes to spend election nights with voters, young supporters gathered as people drove by in cars shouting “Ilhan!” and we love you! “
Britt D’Arezzo, 22, said Ms. Omar’s national perception did not take into account her retail policies and visibility at home.
“You don’t know about your local activism,” said Ms. D’Arezzo. “You don’t see them walking around and just hanging around corners. You don’t see how she connects with us. “
Ms. Omar’s victory was one of the final election priorities for progressive organizations during the 2020 busy season, which started with bitter disappointment for them but has since turned. When the leading progressive candidates, Senators Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, lost the party’s presidential nomination to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., some had written off the Democratic left wing – minimizing it as a rally of activists and social media votes, not something with mass electoral appeal.
In the months since then, a number of insurgent victories in voting rounds – and the strong re-elections of people like Ms. Omar, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York – suggest a more complicated picture and wing of the party remains ascending.
In recent months, challengers backed by groups like Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement have won primary elections in New York, Illinois and Missouri. The St. Louis win was particularly notable when a black challenger was first able to remove a member of the Black Congressional Caucus, a key block of housekeeping power that represents many deep blue Democratic districts.
Taken together, the challengers ‘triumphs and the incumbents’ first victories have provided a path forward for the political movements on the left. If you can get in and stay in office, people like Ms. Omar argue, you can prove to constituents that your proposed reforms are not radical.
The Justice Democrats also issued a statement on Tuesday about Ms. Omar’s success. In the past few weeks, Democrats across the spectrum have lined up to support the incumbent and forged a rare alliance between spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi and the groups trying to push her to the left.