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Rep. Ilhan Omar wins contentious Fifth District DFL primary

Her leading challenger, Democratic newcomer Antone Melton-Meaux, trailed significantly with more than 90 percent of the vote counted. He conceded at his Minneapolis campaign headquarters shortly after 9 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar won a five-way DFL primary Tuesday in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District, topping her nearest contender by double digits after the polls closed at 8 p.m.

Her leading challenger, newcomer Antone Melton-Meaux, trailed significantly with more than 90% of the vote counted. He conceded at his Minneapolis campaign headquarters shortly after 9 p.m.

The much anticipated contest was seen as a test to Omar’s first term in Congress, where she rose to prominence as a member of “The Squad” and a frequent foil to President Donald Trump.

While her politics have made her a popular target for conservatives, she also has faced criticism from Jewish leaders and some fellow Democrats for past remarks about the political influence of Israel, for which she has apologized.

Melton-Meaux is a mediation lawyer who emerged on the scene last year as the most prominent challenger in the five-way primary, raising millions of dollars from around the country in his bid to unseat Omar. Coupled with Omar’s own prolific fundraising, homes and televisions in the district have been blanketed with appeals from the two candidates all summer, including increasingly sharp attacks from both sides.

Melton-Meaux’s ads claimed Omar is more focused on her national profile than the district. He’s also criticized her for past state-level campaign finance violations and for directing more than $1.6 million to her husband’s D.C. consulting firm, which Omar’s campaign has defended in the past as legitimate campaign expenses.

The DFL Party, which is backing Omar, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging Melton-Meaux violated the law by obscuring the identity of political consultants listed as limited liability corporations working on his campaign. He has said it was necessary to protect them from being blacklisted for taking on a Democratic incumbent.

Throughout the campaign, Omar also questioned Melton-Meaux’s progressive credentials, capitalizing on financial support he received from pro-Israel groups and some conservatives urging Republicans to crossover and vote in the Democratic primary against Omar. Early on Election Day, Melton-Meaux disavowed any connection to a text campaign from an unknown group urging “patriots” to defeat Omar as a “duty.”

“The Antone for Congress campaign is NOT conducting a text campaign and disavows the dog-whistle racism in the messages,” he tweeted.

More than $2.5 million has been spent by outside groups targeting Omar in the race, according to campaign finance tracking site Open Secrets.

“It’s hotly contested, there are lots of allegations going around,” said DFL Party Chair Ken Martin. “My hope is that we come out of this as a party unified.

“I think there’s excitement and energy in that Fifth District race for both candidates,” he added. “… At the end of the day, I think that bodes well for the DFL Party as we move into the November election.”

Both candidates spent the day making the case for their campaign in events across the district, which includes Minneapolis and cities such as St. Louis Park, Richfield, Crystal, Robbinsdale, Golden Valley, New Hope, Fridley and northeast Edina.

Melton-Meaux did a walking tour of north Minneapolis in the morning, and ended the day with a rally at his campaign headquarters in south Minneapolis. Omar spent her evening in northeast Minneapolis and near the University of Minnesota campus, talking to residents and young voters on campus that have shown up to support her in the past.

The race has divided progressives and traditional liberals in the Fifth District, the most diverse in the state and one of the safest Democratic districts in the nation. Melton-Meaux earned the backing of prominent state Democrats like civil rights activists Nekima Levy Armstrong, Josie Johnson and former U.S. District Attorney Andy Luger.

But Omar’s national profile earned her the support of former presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and prominent state Democrats like Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison.

The killing of George Floyd in the district also loomed heavily over the race, where the candidates were divided on the future of police accountability measures. Omar is backing a push from the Minneapolis City Council to dismantle the police department and create a new community-focused department, and her supporters criticized Melton-Meaux for a 2015 Star Tribune op-ed where he criticized anti-police chants used by the Black Lives Matter movement. Melton-Meaux, who doesn’t support dismantling the police, said he wrote the op-ed out of love for the movement and a desire to see them create a “bigger tent.”

Republican-endorsed candidate and businessman Lacy Johnson has raised more than $4 million for his campaign, even though the winner of the DFL primary is all but assured of going to Congress in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Johnson, who was facing two challengers, had a commanding lead in the race by the time this edition went to press.

Omar was one of several progressive women of color in Congress who faced a well-financed primary challenger this year. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib both handily prevailed this summer in high-dollar primary races.

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