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Democrat Ilhan Omar becomes one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress

Omar will take Keith Ellison’s seat in the House.

Democrat Ilhan Omar, who could become the first Muslim woman elected to the House of Representatives, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on August 16, 2018
Democrat Ilhan Omar becomes one of the first Muslim women elected to the House of Representatives.
Jeff Baenen/AP

Minnesota state Rep. Ilhan Omar has become one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, easily winning the election in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District — the Minneapolis-area district previously represented by Keith Ellison — on Tuesday.

Omar, a 36-year-old Somali refugee who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, beat Republican Jennifer Zielinski to take Ellison’s seat, which he vacated to run for Minnesota attorney general.

The district, covering Minneapolis and some surrounding suburbs, is deep blue, so Omar was expected to be elected to the House in November. The voters elected Ellison for six terms before he sought the attorney general’s office.

The makeup of the district has allowed progressive politics to flourish. Omar ran on a platform that embraced the left, including Medicare-for-all, a $15 minimum wage, and tuition-free college.

Omar said President Trump’s “politics of fear” motivated her to get in the race.

“It is a district that is very much interested in making sure our progressive values are represented, and they know the only way they’ll continue to be represented is if we have people who are not going to just think about getting themselves to Washington, but think about getting other progressives to Washington,” she said in an interview with MinnPost.

Omar is one of two candidates likely to become the first Muslim women elected to Congress this fall: The other is Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib. Tlaib is expected to replace disgraced Rep. John Conyers, who resigned after sexual misconduct allegations, in another safe Democratic district. Congress currently has only two lawmakers who identify as Muslim — and both of them, including Ellison, are men.

Omar, the first Somali-American Muslim to be elected to the Minnesota legislature or any elected office in the United States, is also part of a historic wave of women looking to clinch higher office this year. Women and people of color are still underrepresented in Congress (20 percent women and 19 percent people of color), but 146 women have won Democratic primaries in 2018.

Omar faced Islamophobic attacks during her campaign from outside conservative media outlets, who have baselessly claimed she was once married to her brother and has ties to terrorists. Laura Loomer — a far-right provocateur and “guerilla journalist” with a history of anti-Muslim rants who says she is investigating Muslim candidates — also crashed a joint campaign event with Tlaib and Omar, yelling questions about Hamas and female genital mutilation.

Those attacks didn’t have any sway in the general election, though.

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