Omar easily wins primary challenge as 'the Squad' continues unbeaten streak

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Rep. Ilhan Omar won her Democratic primary in Minnesota Tuesday night, becoming the third member of “the Squad,” four high-profile progressive women in their first term, to beat back primary challengers.

Omar easily overcame a challenge from Black lawyer Antone Melton-Meaux, winning by nearly 20 points in the Minneapolis-area Fifth District. Melton-Meaux who had received heavy donations from the pro-Israel lobby that allowed him to dominate local television advertising and was endorsed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Omar was targeted for comments she had made about Israel and criticisms that she was putting a national profile over the needs of her Minneapolis district.

She made headlines earlier this year when she married political consultant Tim Mynett months after denying the two of them were having an affair and had drawn scrutiny for paying his firm over $1 million during this race. Omar, previously a state legislator, won 48 percent of the vote in a primary on her way to filling the vacant seat in 2018.

“If this election showed us anything, it’s the lengths that those seeking to uphold systems of oppression will go to stop a movement that wants to put power back in the hands of people,” Omar said in a statement following her victory. “But in Minnesota, we know that organized people will always beat organized money. Tonight, our movement didn’t just win. We earned a mandate for change. Despite outside efforts to defeat us, we once again broke turnout records. Despite the attacks, our support has only grown since 2018.”

Two other members of the Squad, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, have already won their primaries while Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts is running unopposed in her Boston-area district. Omar was born in Somalia and Tlaib’s parents are Palestinian immigrants; they are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican descent and Pressley is African-American.

The four freshmen have been featured in Republican attack ads for races across the country, and were the object of a tweet by President Trump telling them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Omar adapted Trump’s words for the campaign slogan “Send Her Back ... to Congress.”

Ocasio-Cortez was the first to face voters in late June for her seat in New York’s 14th District, which includes parts of Bronx and Queens. Her primary opponent was former CNBC broadcaster Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who was running to Ocasio-Cortez’s right with the support of Wall Street (raising over $3 million) and the traditionally pro-Republican Chamber of Commerce.

The freshman incumbent ended up with nearly 75 percent of the vote, defeating Caruso-Cabrera by 35,000 votes, more than the total number of ballots cast in her 2018 upset of longtime Rep. Joe Crowley.

“What you all have shown is that a people's movement here is not an accident, it is a mandate,” Ocasio-Cortez said on election night. “This absolutely strengthens us. It’s not just about winning or losing, but so much of this is about how we win. To win with that kind of mandate is transformative, and it tells us that our policy positions are not an accident.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with, from left, Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., with, from left, Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

On August 4, voters in Tlaib’s majority-Black district in Detroit went to the polls to decide between her and Detroit City Council president Brenda Jones, who is Black. Tlaib had barely defeated Jones in the six-way 2018 primary to fill the open seat, winning by under a thousand votes. The freshman had rankled centrist Democrats during her first term, booing a mention of Hillary Clinton at a Bernie Sanders campaign event and refusing to endorse Joe Biden. Jones had attacked her for being focused on staying in the national spotlight rather than issues important to her district.

On the eve of the election, the New York Times described Tlaib as “fighting for her political life, locked in a close primary race that could be decided by a few hundred mail-in ballots.” In the end, she defeated Jones by a margin of two to one, winning by roughly 35 thousand votes.

“We have a resounding mandate to put people before profits,” Tlaib said in her victory statement. “Let it be known that in the 13th District, just like in communities across our country, we are done with establishment politics that put corporations first. If I was considered the most vulnerable member of the Squad, I think it’s safe to say the Squad is here to stay, and it’s only getting bigger.”

The four congresswomen were endorsed during their initial 2018 runs by Justice Democrats, a progressive group that sprung from Sanders’s 2016 campaign. Despite Sanders falling short in the presidential primary, Justice Democrats have added three more upsets of incumbents in the 2020 cycle: Marie Newman defeating anti-abortion Democrat Rep. Dan Lipinski in Chicago, Jamaal Bowman defeating House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel in New York and Cori Bush defeating long-time incumbent Rep. Lacy Clay in St. Louis.

One more Justice Democrat is on the ballot in Massachusetts next month, as Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse runs against Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.


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