Has Ilhan Omar grown too radical even for the heart of Minneapolis? New FEC filings in the DFL primary for her seat in Congress show Omar in serious trouble. The Star Tribune reported yesterday that challenger Antone Melton-Meaux raised seven times as much money as Omar, scoring $3.2 million against Omar’s $471K. Melton-Meaux now has twice as much cash on hand ahead of the August 11 primary:
Melton-Meaux, a mediation lawyer who emerged on the DFL scene late last year to challenge Omar, told the Star Tribune he raised a staggering $3.2 million between April and the end of June, with $2 million cash left in the bank before the Aug. 11 primary. He dramatically outraised Omar, who took in $471,624 during the same time period. Omar’s campaign said she has $1,111,861 left on hand ahead of the primary election.
The fundraising gap would be striking for any newcomer challenging an incumbent, but it’s especially notable in a race against Omar, a freshman Democrat and member of “The Squad” who has risen to prominence as one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Omar herself is a prolific fundraiser, fueled in part by her national profile and her unabashed criticism of President Donald Trump.
The difference is staggering, especially when dealing with a congressional incumbent in a primary. Challengers simply don’t get that kind of attention from in-party voters under normal circumstances. Unless the incumbent has proven embarrassing or unreliable, the risk in changing horses for a general-election fight is usually too much of a disincentive.
Is Omar that embarrassing? Yes, and she has another strike against her as well. As I have noted before, that calculation matters a lot less in stronghold districts like MN-05, where a Democrat is practically guaranteed a general-election win. That means Democrats can feel safer in conducting a competitive primary, although those still rarely produce substantial challengers — and almost never a challenger who can outraise an incumbent to this degree.
Where has the money come from? A lot of it is coming from outside the district, but not all of it, the Strib notes:
It’s a dramatic surge for Melton-Meaux, who reported raising nearly $400,000 between December and the end of March. The influx of money came, in part, from some conservative donors and pro-Israel groups like nonpartisan NORPAC, which held a virtual fundraiser for Melton-Meaux in May. According to data from ActBlue, an online fundraising tool, a number of individual donors outside of the district contributed the maximum amount allowed in May. He’s also received donations from prominent Minnesota Democratic fundraisers such as Sam and Sylvia Kaplan.
“It’s about the residents who live there, but they’ve certainly invited in enough outside money that now it’s become more of a regional or national battle,” said Todd Rapp, a longtime veteran of DFL campaigns. He said he’s never seen so much money flood a single intraparty contest. “It’s kind of moved beyond our borders.”
Omar’s anti-Semitic comments over the past two years are playing a big part in this, too. Much has been made about the voting power of the Somali immigrant community in Minneapolis, but there is a large Jewish vote in MN-05, too. Plus, the Somali community generally feels closer to the Jewish community than Omar’s rhetoric would indicate, thanks to Jewish support for their migration and integration into Twin Cities life.
Did Omar see this coming? Perhaps her pals did. A couple of weeks ago, the “Squad” announced that it would partner on fundraising to keep themselves in Congress:
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and the other three members of the group known as “the Squad” launched a joint fundraising committee to support their re-elections.
Omar, along with U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, recently announced they are creating the Squad Victory Fund. They’ll use it to back their re-election campaigns and political action committees, which can provide support to other candidates.
Ocasio-Cortez had already won her primary in New York when they launched this joint effort. Pressley doesn’t appear to have a primary challenger. Only Omar and Rashida Tlaib face significant challengers, with the latter trying her best (via a proxy) to disqualify Detroit City Council president Brenda Jones from the August 4 primary. That now looks more like a rescue mission for Omar and Tlaib.
Money isn’t everything in politics, but it’s not nothing either. The huge influx of cash into MN-05 makes it very clear that some Democrats would be happy to see the anti-Semitic Omar disappear from the national stage — and maybe take her campaign-skimming husband with her, too.