On Tuesday night, early projections showed Representative Ilhan Omar winning the Democratic primary over attorney Antone Melton-Meaux in Minnesota’s fifth district. As of late Tuesday night, Omar was leading her primary challenger by over 15 points in the safely blue district, which encompasses Minneapolis.
Of the four members of the Squad — the progressive group of Congresswomen of color made up of Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley — Omar was the only representative to face a significant primary threat, largely thanks to outside spending in the race on behalf of Melton-Meaux, as Politico notes:
Omar is being vastly outspent on the air, a dynamic that is usually concerning for an incumbent. Melton-Meaux has spent nearly $2.1 million on TV ads, compared with Omar’s $875,000, according to data compiled by the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics. Omar has invested some $400,000 on digital ads but Melton-Meaux has $1.5 million in outside help.
A high-spending super PAC, Americans for Tomorrow’s Future, has also waded into the race, spending close to $2.5 million on mailers and TV ads criticizing Omar and boosting Melton-Meaux. The group had previously contributed to DMFI PAC — a pro-Israel super PAC that unsuccessfully tried to save Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) in his primary with Jamaal Bowman … Another group has sent mailers urging voters who typically vote Republican to participate in the Democratic primary and cast ballots for Melton-Meaux. Voters in Minnesota do not register with a political party.
Melton-Meaux, a Black attorney and mediator in Minneapolis, also campaigned as a progressive, and ran on the slogan “Focused on the Fifth,” claiming that Omar had lost focus of her home district in her sparring with President Trump over his xenophobic and racist comments. Though the candidates shared some policy goals, the two have notably different stances on Israel: While Omar, one of three Muslims in the House of Representatives, supports the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, Melton-Meaux has been vocally supportive of Israel, a stance which helped provide a good deal of his funding from outside groups. (According to the Minneapolis Post, around 20 percent of Melton-Meaux’s large-dollar donations came with bundling support from pro-Israel groups.) Three other candidates ran in the primary, though did not receive a significant portion of the vote.
Thanks to the outside spending, the high profile of the first Somali-American congresswoman, and the understanding that the primary was part of a referendum on the Squad’s performance, the race was already a matter of national focus prior to the police killing of George Floyd in the district on Memorial Day. Following the unrest in Minneapolis, Melton-Meaux called for reform and an end to systemic racism, while Omar pressed city government to shift funding away from the police department and toward other social services.
With Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib all expected to return to Congress in January, the quartet will be joined by two more progressive candidates of color — both of whom displaced long-sitting, establishment Democrats in a show of the apparent staying power of the Party’s left flank in deep-blue districts. Last month, Jamaal Bowman, a Black middle-school principal, bested 16-term representative Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th district, while earlier in August, Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush defeated ten-term Democrat William Lacy Clay in Missouri’s first district, which includes St. Louis and Ferguson.