Omar wins as matchups are set for Minnesota, Wisconsin battlegrounds

GOP is targeting Reps. Dean Phillips, Collin C. Peterson and Ron Kind

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar has won the Democratic nomination in the 5th District over lawyer  Antone Melton-Meaux. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar has won the Democratic nomination in the 5th District over lawyer Antone Melton-Meaux. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 11, 2020 at 11:42pm

Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar, one of the most progressive members of the House, has thwarted a primary challenger who raised millions of dollars amid the national backlash against her celebrity. 

Her victory Tuesday over lawyer Antone Melton-Meaux, by far the best-funded of the four Democrats who took on the freshman lawmaker, was also a vindication for the so-called squad of progressive female freshmen who have sought to push House leadership to the left.

Omar is the last of three squad members to face primary challengers in a cycle that has seen three Democratic incumbents fall to challengers backed by progressive groups. President Donald Trump lost her Minneapolis-based district by 55 points in 2016, so Omar’s nomination all but assures her a second term in Congress

In other primaries Tuesday, voters decided the matchups for these races that could be competitive in the fall:

  • Republicans in Minnesota chose Army veteran Kendall Qualls to take on freshman Democrat Dean Phillips;
  • House Agriculture Chairman Collin C. Peterson was renominated easily, and will face Republican Michelle Fischbach, a former Minnesota lieutenant governor; and
  • Wisconsin Republicans picked retired Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden to challenge longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind.

Omar beats well-funded challenger

Omar was leading the five-person field in Minnesota’s 5th District, which encompasses Minneapolis, with 57 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race at 9:23 p.m. Central time. 

Melton-Meaux, who is Black and a first-time candidate, focused much of his attacks on Omar’s House attendance record and her 2019 tweets critical of Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. That criticism drew charges of anti-Semitism against Omar and caused a political headache for House leadership. Omar was also criticized for her personal relationship with a campaign consultant whom she married earlier this year. 

Melton-Meaux raised $4.1 million — an eye-popping amount for a primary challenger that almost matched the $4.2 million Omar pulled in. Buzzfeed News reported in July that much of that came from big-money donors and some was bundled by pro-Israel groups. Some donors quoted in the story said they were motivated by animosity toward Omar, who has been a fixture in conservative media since she was sworn in. 

Omar and her supporters say such opposition was motivated by sexism and anti-Muslim bias.

She was also targeted by nearly $2.5 million in direct mail and ads funded by Americans for Tomorrow’s Future and about $15,000 from the Alliance to Combat Extremism Fund. She benefited from $134,000 in outside spending by MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union and a group called Take Action MN. 

Omar will next face information technology entrepreneur Lacy Johnson, who had 77 percent of the vote in the Republican primary when the AP called the race. Inside Elections with nathan. L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Democratic.

Races set in targeted districts

Minnesota’s 3rd District, which covers the Twin Cities’ western suburbs, is one of the few competitive seats in which Republicans tapped a Black man as their nominee. Qualls, a former marketing executive who works for a health care startup, was leading Army activist Leslie Davis 76 percent to 24 percent when the AP called the race at 8:48 p.m. Central time. 

Qualls raised $865,000 through July 22 and had $467,000 left in the bank.

Phillips, who easily won a primary rematch Tuesday with retail store employee Cole Young, raised $1.4 million and had $467,000 on hand at July 22. The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund spent $20,000 opposing the freshman lawmaker, who flipped the longtime Republican seat in 2018. Trump lost the district by 9 points, and Inside Elections rates the general election Solid Democratic.

House Agriculture Chairman C. Collin Peterson, here with Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2019, will face former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo).

In the 7th District, which Trump carried by 31 points, Peterson is a frequent target of the GOP but has managed to hold on in part by being one of the Democrats most likely to to break with his party on votes.

Peterson faced two challengers in his Tuesday primary for the western Minnesota seat but was leading with 76 percent when the AP called the race at 9:30 p.m. Central time.

Fischbach was leading a five-way Republican field with 60 percent when the AP called the primary at 9:35 p.m. Central time.

She was the top fundraiser in the GOP primary, with $1 million raised through July 22. She also benefited from $23,000 in direct mail spending from two groups opposed to abortion rights. But physician Noel Collis, who raised $755,000, forced her to spend heavily on the primary, hammering her in TV ads that called her “a career politician turned lobbyist, lawbreaker and liar,” and offering to give Washington a colonoscopy. 

Fischbach reported $340,000 in the bank at July 22, compared to Peterson’s $1.3 million. Inside Elections rates the race Tilt Democratic

In Wisconsin’s 3rd District, which includes LaCrosse and Eau Claire, Kind was leading pediatrician Mark Neumann with 82 percent of the vote when the AP called the race at 8:53 p.m. Central time. 

Van Orden, an Afghanistan and Iraq veteran, defeated public relations professional Jessi Ebben in the battle for the GOP nomination. Van Orden was leading 66 percent to 34 percent when the race was called at 9:45 p.m. Central time.

Van Orden outraised Kind in the fundraising quarter ended June 30, but the incumbent had a clear financial advantage in cash on hand on July 22, with $3.1 million to Van Orden’s $288,000.

Trump carried the district by by 5 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the general election Solid Democratic.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.