WASHINGTON — Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, a member of the progressive Squad, eked out a closer-than-expected Democratic primary victory Tuesday against a centrist challenger who has questioned the incumbent’s support for the “defund the police” movement amid rising crime rates.
Former Minneapolis City Councilmember Don Samuels conceded the race to Omar. Meanwhile, another progressive, Becca Balint, won the Democratic House primary in Vermont – positioning her to become the first woman representing the state in Congress.
Omar, who represents Minneapolis and is one of the left’s leading voices in Congress, has defended calls to redirect public safety funding more into community-based programs.
Samuels, a moderate Democrat whose north Minneapolis base suffers from more violent crime than other parts of the city, seized on the issue in his primary. He helped defeat a ballot question last year that sought to replace the city police department with a new public safety unit.
Samuels and others also successfully sued the city to force it to meet minimum police staffing levels called for in Minneapolis’ charter. Samuels argued that Omar is divisive. He attracted big bucks to his campaign, though Omar retained a significant cash advantage.
Barb Atkinson, a 53-year-old part-time event planner for a radio station who supported Samuels, called Omar “too far to the left.”
“Although I respect Ilhan Omar and what she’s done, I disagree with the defund the police. I really think that wording sends the wrong message,” Atkinson said. “We need our police. We need the police, and we need our leaders to work together to solve this issue. We don’t need it to be more divided.”
Omar, seeking her third term in the House, had crushed a similar primary challenge two years ago from a well-funded but lesser-known opponent.
“She’s had a lot of adversity already and pushback. I don’t think her work is done, and I think she has a lot to bring to the table,” said Kathy Ward, a 62-year-old property caretaker for an apartment building in Minneapolis who voted for Omar. “We’ve got to give her a chance.”
Two other members of the Squad — Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri — won their Democratic primaries last week.