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Ilhan Omar, a progressive Muslim woman, wins Minnesota primary for Keith Ellison’s House seat

If she wins as expected in November, she would make history as one of the first Muslim women in Congress.

Ilhan Omar, winner of the Democratic primary in the Minnesota Fifth, will likely become one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.
AFP/Getty Images

Minnesota state Rep. Ilhan Omar will likely become one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress after winning a heated Democratic primary in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District on Tuesday.

Omar, a 36-year-old Somali refugee who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, beat a packed field of six candidates in the race to fill current Rep. Keith Ellison’s seat. Ellison decided to run for Minnesota attorney general rather than return to Congress; he faced allegations of domestic abuse in the last days of his campaign.

Given the district’s partisan makeup (Cook Political Report rates it D+26), Omar is all but assured of being elected to the House in November. She should be joined by Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib as the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Tlaib won last week’s primary 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 has 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 activism 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 are unlikely to have any sway in the general election, though. Covering Minneapolis and some surrounding suburbs, this is Minnesota’s most liberal district. 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 a lefty platform of Medicare-for-all, a $15 minimum, 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.

Correction: A previous version of this article described Loomer as “alt-right.” Loomer has distanced herself from parts of the alt-right movement over anti-Semitism, and can be considered part of what’s sometimes known as the “alt-light.”