Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) won her primary race on August 9 by a margin that was much closer than expected.
Omar’s main opponent was Don Samuels, a former city councilman. The final vote tallies showed Omar garnering 50.3% of the vote and Samuels with 48.2%––a difference of approximately 2,500 votes. Omar was expected to handily win her primary.
Samuels positioned himself in the race as a moderate alternative to Omar, particularly on the issue of policing. Samuels and Omar differed on a ballot measure that would have transformed the Minneapolis Police Department into a Department of Public Safety that would have provided a “comprehensive public health approach” to public safety; police officers “could be included… if necessary” under the measure. Samuels opposed the measure while Omar supported it, though the measure ultimately failed.
The two candidates also had differing views on Israel. Omar has been a lightning rod of controversy over her various comments on Israel, including the infamous “it’s all about the Benjamins” 2019 tweet and her 2021 comparison of the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban. Omar is also a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and has dismissed those who have raised questions as to why she supports BDS but doesn’t support sanctioning Iran. Samuels told The Intercept that partnering “with our longtime friend and ally Israel” is important on military and humanitarian matters, though when asked about U.S. aid to Israel, Samuels said that the U.S. can no longer be “the world’s sheriff.”
Samuels had received the backing of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, the Minnesota Star-Tribune, and former heads of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) and outraised Omar in campaign money. However, Omar had the full weight of the DFL and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) behind her.
“When you get the obligatory endorsements of the speaker of the House, and other DFL leaders, it’s tough to beat,” Samuels said in his concession speech. “To come this close, means that we have our finger on the pulse of the exhausted majority.” Samuels also argued that if Omar wasn’t the incumbent, he would have won the race. But Samuels vowed to support Omar in the general election and he hoped she “learned a lesson from this.”
Omar declared in her victory speech that her win “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. This win is for them and everyone who still believes that hate, division and regression will not be the legacy of the Fifth [congressional district].”
Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s (JTA) Andrew Lappin noted that AIPAC’s new political action committee (PAC) United Democracy Project did not get involved in Omar’s primary race. A spokesperson from the United Democracy Project told Lappin “that the group was more focused on preventing critics of Israel from taking office than on unseating incumbents,” though the PAC was involved in helping unseat incumbent Representative Andy Levin (D-MI), who was running for re-election after having his seat redistricted, per Lappin.