Rep. Ilhan Omar wins 5th District DFL race with narrow margin

Omar defeated Don Samuels by a narrow margin of less than 3,000 votes, making this her tightest race yet as she seeks a third term in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Ilhan Omar narrowly defeats Don Samuels in 5th District DFL race (photo credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS, Antranik Tavitian/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)
Rep. Ilhan Omar narrowly defeats Don Samuels in 5th District DFL race
(photo credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS, Antranik Tavitian/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar narrowly defeated former Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels in Tuesday's Fifth District DFL primary.

"Tonight's victory is a testament to how much our district believes in the collective values we are fighting for and how much they're willing to do to help us overcome defeat," Omar said in a statement.

Omar is seeking a third term to represent the reliably blue Fifth District seat that includes Minneapolis and nearby suburbs.

"Tonight's victory is a testament to how much our district believes in the collective values we are fighting for and how much they're willing to do to help us overcome defeat."

Ilhan Omar

"We did have the right read on the voters," said Samuels. "But we just couldn't pull it off in the length of time we had."

Hovering over the contentious primary was Omar's support for last year's failed Minneapolis ballot question to replace the city's police department with a new public safety agency after George Floyd's death, and her unsuccessful effort to oust Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey by endorsing two of his challengers.

 Ilhan Omar (D-MN) addresses the media and community organizers at a press conference at the vigil site for Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, US, April 20, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/NICHOLAS PFOSI) Ilhan Omar (D-MN) addresses the media and community organizers at a press conference at the vigil site for Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, US, April 20, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/NICHOLAS PFOSI)

"You know what? You put in the work and you will produce," Omar said before the polls closed.

Standing on the corner of NE. Broadway and Central Avenue with her yellow Labrador Teddy and her husband, Tim Mynett, Omar said she'd been out talking to voters all day and doesn't get nervous on Election Day.

"You do all the work and you wait for the results," she said. "That's why we go on hard."

Background on both candidates

Omar, 39, is the first Somali American and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.

Samuels, 73, is a Jamaican immigrant who has organized for over two decades against gun violence after a bullet pierced his home in north Minneapolis.

"It shows that people are dissatisfied with her performance," Samuels said of the results. "Even with all the advantages of incumbency and endorsement and recognition and the odds, all of that, that she still could lose an election because people are so dissatisfied."

Samuels tried to portray himself as less politically volatile than Omar while evoking their differing views on last November's policing ballot measure. Omar was a vocal supporter of the measure, while Samuels helped organize the successful effort to defeat the question.

"Even with all the advantages of incumbency and endorsement and recognition and the odds, all of that, that she still could lose an election because people are so dissatisfied."

Don Samuels

Two years ago, Omar overcame a well-funded primary challenge from Antone Melton-Meaux and won by around 20 points. While Samuels hasn't gotten the fundraising numbers that Melton-Meaux saw, he outraised Omar in recent months.

Frey, along with the mayors of St. Louis Park, Golden Valley, Edina and New Hope endorsed Samuels' intraparty challenge to Omar. Frey's endorsement comes after Omar backed two challengers to Frey's re-election last fall.

Omar had the DFL endorsement, along with the support of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who held the Fifth District seat before Omar, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, nationally known progressive senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and a number of local mayors and elected officials.

On primary day at North Regional Library in Minneapolis, 72-year-old Carolyn Pinke voted for Samuels, saying "I like his points of view on things."

"He's a very good man," she said, adding that she supported his work to defeat "the defund-the-police movement."

At the Van Cleve Recreation Center in Minneapolis' Como neighborhood, Mya Halvorson said she was excited to cast her ballot for Omar after seeing "the well-funded campaign against her."

"I think she does a good job at pushing a progressive agenda that is representative of what people here in Minneapolis want as well," Halvorson, 21, said.

The contours of this year's primary are different from the scene that emerged in 2020, when Omar's fate was closely watched nationally as money poured into the primary contest. The localized nature of this race, and the relitigating of the policing amendment, has made for a different dynamic this cycle.

Omar has continued to build recognition and stir controversy in her second term, further establishing herself as a progressive voice in Washington. She broke from many in her party by voting against a major infrastructure package, a Russian oil ban and $1 billion for Israel's Iron Dome defense system.

Also on the DFL primary ballot were AJ Kern, Albert Ross and Nate Schluter.

Omar will face GOP-endorsed candidate Cicely Davis, who defeated Royce White and Guy Gaskin in the Republican primary, in November.