No one questions Donald Trump’s desire to see Ilhan Omar ousted from Congress in November. The question is whether Ilhan Omar hang around long enough for Trump’s endorsement of this challenger to matter. Republican nominee Lacy Johnson picked up the presidential endorsement on Twitter this morning, as Trump described Omar as a “disaster” who “hates our Military & our Vets.”
Trump concluded with a “Good luck Lacy!”, and Lacy will need it:
And I’m Endorsing you also Lacy, you truly deserve it. You are doing a great job, and Omar is a disaster who wants much higher taxes, hates our Military & our Vets, demands Open Borders, and is fighting to take away our great 2nd Amendment. Good luck Lacy! https://t.co/RunIPCbTyc
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2020
Johnson will need more than luck to win in MN-05 as a Republican — he’ll need a miracle. The Cook index for this Minneapolis-centered district officially rates as D+26. In practice, Republican candidates for this House seat get around 25% of the vote in every election and lose by 40 points or more. Even when Democrats fail to get the other 75%, it’s because they have shared the vote with an even more leftward minor-party candidate. Omar won her first election in 2018 with 78% of the vote in a two-way race against GOP nominee Jennifer Zielinski — even with ethics charges and questions about Omar’s marriage emerging during that campaign.
In the last two decades, the most votes won by a GOP nominee for this seat was 88,753, by Chris Fields in 2012. The fewest votes won by a Democrat was 136,060 in 2010 by Keith Ellison in his first attempt at the seat, which was still 56% of the vote in a four way race where Independence Party nominee Tammy Lee and Republican Alan Fine both won 21%. The last Democratic presidential nominee to get less than 70% from this district was Al Gore in 2000; Hillary Clinton led Donald Trump in 2016 by 74/19 in MN-05. Trump’s endorsement here won’t do Johnson any favors, in other words.
Omar won’t lose her seat to a Republican in November, clearly. However, will she even get the opportunity to prove that? A far bigger threat has emerged in the primary, the Star Tribune reports today, one that could actually send Omar back into obscurity:
After a turbulent first term in Congress, Omar faces an unexpectedly strong primary challenge from political newcomer Antone Melton-Meaux, an attorney and professional mediator who has promised a more collaborative style for a Minneapolis-based congressional seat that has been in DFL hands since 1963.
Political handicappers expect Omar, 37, to retain the endorsement of DFL Party delegates later this month. But Melton-Meaux, 47, who has raised more than $400,000 for his fledgling campaign, intends to take the race to Minnesota’s Aug. 11 primary and a broader set of voters. …
“He’s got some significant names and resources behind him,” said Mike Erlandson, a former DFL chairman. But Erlandson, a one-time chief of staff to former Fifth District congressman Martin Sabo, said Omar would be hard to unseat.
“Few have the fundraising prowess she has behind her. Incumbents are powerful, she has very high name ID, and she’s been relatively quiet this year compared to last,” he said.
Omar has built up a war chest of $3.4 million, which probably would mostly be for primary campaigning, since it’s a walkover district in the general election. The “very high name ID” cuts both ways, though. Omar may have built a reputation for taking on Trump, but she has also created headaches with her remarks about Jews, who have a significant constituency in MN-05 and who have been supportive of the Somali refugee community. Having an affair with her campaign fundraiser and then divorcing her Somali husband to marry her non-Somali benefactor didn’t do her any favors back home, either. And that doesn’t even touch on Omar’s apparent tax violations or the suspicion that she married her brother to commit immigration fraud.
At some point, Democrats in MN-05 might choose a safer option rather than line up behind a one-term disaster just for the sake of party politics. If Antone Melton-Meaux can pass muster and not embarrass the district, it would be an easy argument for Omar’s retirement. In fact, although the Star Tribune thinks Omar will retain the DFL endorsement before the primary in August, party leaders might decide to force the issue and get rid of its biggest headache. About the only way Melton-Meaux could lose is … if he got an endorsement from Trump.