With Omar and Greene, Minnesota and Georgia primaries Tuesday test parties’ extremes

QAnon follower and ‘squad’ Democrat vie for nominations

Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar faces a well-funded challenger in Tuesday's Democratic primary in Minnesota.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar faces a well-funded challenger in Tuesday's Democratic primary in Minnesota. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 10, 2020 at 8:29am

Corrected, Aug. 12 | Tuesday’s primaries could help define Democrats' and Republicans' ideological extremes in the House, with progressive freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar fighting a challenger in Minnesota and Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon supporter who has filmed videos espousing bigoted ideas, in a close runoff for an open seat in the deep-red 14th District. 

Primaries in Connecticut, Vermont and Wisconsin also feature a handful of matchups in races in the lower tier of the House battleground. Here’s what to watch: 

Will Georgia back QAnon supporter?

Republican leaders in Washington rushed to condemn Greene when the videos surfaced in the weeks after Georgia’s June primaries. The comments that drew scrutiny included her warnings of an "Islamic invasion into our government offices," her reference to Jewish businessman George Soros and an assertion that gangs, drugs and lack of education were holding black and brown men down in America. "That's not a white person thing,” she said.

But it is unclear how much sway that will have with voters in the 14th District, in the state's northwest corner along the Alabama and Tennessee borders. Greene and neurosurgeon and business owner John Cowan are in a runoff for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Rep. Tom Graves. Some voters told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that they weren’t bothered by Greene's remarks and respected her independence from what they saw as the Washington establishment. 

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Greene was known to peddle conspiracy theories and to have ties to the QAnon movement and the Ku Klux Klan when she emerged as a clear frontrunner in the June primary. She led the nine-candidate field with 40 percent of the vote. Cowan had 20 percent. 

Recent polls have shown the runoff in a tie. 

And Greene, the owner of a construction company, continues to have a financial advantage, pulling in $1.6 million as of July 22. That includes $900,000 she loaned to her campaign. But about half of the additional money she raised came in after Politico first reported on the videos on June 17. Cowan raised $1.2 million, of which $330,000 came in after the story. 

Greene also continues to be highlighted as a “priority candidate” on the website of the House Freedom Fund, which is connected to the the far-right House Freedom Caucus. Since the runoff began, the fund has spent more than $14,000 on her behalf for email and telemarketing and "donation processing." Drain the DC Swamp PAC has also spent more than $46,000 for digital, radio and TV ads supporting her, all since the report was published.

A Florida-based group called A Great America PAC that was formed in late July spent $30,000 on a media buy opposing Greene in the days leading up to the election.

Will squad member lose her primary?

At the other end of the ideological spectrum, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a freshman Democrat in Minnesota’s 5th District, faces a well-funded primary challenger in Antone Melton-Meaux, an attorney who had slightly more than $2 million cash on hand as of June 30. 

Omar’s cash on hand for the period was about $1.1 million. 

In the deep-blue district, an urban hub that includes Minneapolis, the primary effectively decides the general election.  

Omar is a member of the "squad" of four freshman Democrats that also includes New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Omar has generated some controversy during her short tenure in Congress. She came under scrutiny, for example, for her personal relationship with a campaign consultant whom she married earlier this year. Another squad member, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, fended off an Aug. 4 primary challenge in her Michigan district from Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. 

Voters have been bombarded with messaging from the dueling campaigns as well as from outside groups. Super PAC Americans for Tomorrow’s Future spent big against Omar, including a late-July expenditure north of $600,000, according to federal election disclosures.  

Republican targets 

Also in Minnesota, Kendall Qualls, a businessman who is one of the few Black men running on the GOP ticket this cycle, faces army activist Leslie Davis in the Republican primary to take on Democrat Rep. Dean Phillips in the 3rd District and its suburbs, a seat Republicans are targeting. Qualls raised $865,000 and had $467,000 left in the bank as of July 22. Davis, a perennial candidate, did not report any fundraising to the FEC. 

Phillips also has a primary challenge from retail store employee Cole Young, who ran in 2018. Phillips raised $1.4 million and had $467,000 on hand. The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund has spent $20,000 opposing him. President Donald Trump lost the district by 9 points in 2016, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Democratic.

Republicans are also targeting Democratic Rep. Collin C. Peterson in Minnesota's 7th District, which Trump carried by 30 points in 2016. Both Peterson and Republican recruit Michelle Fischbach have primaries Tuesday. Peterson, who has $1.3 million in the bank, is the only one of the three Democrats to report any fundraising to the FEC. He also benefited from $67,000 in digital and radio ads from a group called Committee for Stronger Rural Communities.

Fischbach, a former lieutenant governor, is in a five-way race for the GOP nomination. She is the top fundraiser, with $1 million raised and $340,000 on hand. She also benefited from $23,000 in direct mail spending from two groups opposed to abortion rights. Physician Noel Collis has raised $755,000 and had $250,000 in the bank. He has been using that money to hammer Fischbach in TV ads calling her “a career politician turned lobbyist, lawbreaker and liar,” and offering to give Washington a colonoscopy. 

Inside Elections rates the race Tilt Democratic

In Wisconsin, Republicans Derrick Van Orden and Jessi Ebben are competing for the chance to challenge Democratic Rep. Ron Kind in a district Trump carried by 5 points. Van Orden, a retired Navy Seal and Afghan and Iraq War veteran, raised $747,000 and had $288,000 in the bank. He also benefited from $110,000 in outside spending from American Patriots PAC and Seal PAC, groups dedicated to supporting conservative veterans. American Patriots PAC spent an additional $80,000 on media and direct mail opposing Ebben. 

Ebben, who works in public relations, raised $169,000 and had $74,000 in the bank. The House Freedom Fund also spent $11,000 on email and telemarketing supporting her race. 

Kind has a primary challenge from his left from pediatrician Mark Neumann. The incumbent has the clear financial advantage with $3 million cash on hand. 

Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

The name of the group that spent $30,000 against Greene was corrected in this report.