Local Democrats are seriously considering the prospect of supporting an unprecedented primary challenge to Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar in 2020, following a bipartisan condemnation of several of her remarks as anti-Semitic, according to officials and state representatives.
Activists and officials interviewed by The Hill said that although they have not yet recruited a viable alternative candidate to the 37-year-old Omar, frustrations are mounting.
“There’s definitely some buzz going around about it, but it’s more a buzz of is anyone talking about finding someone to run against her than it is anyone saying they’re going to run against her or contemplate it,” state Rep. Ron Latz, a Democrat, told The Hill. “There’s definitely talk about people wanting someone to run against her.”
Omar Jamal, a Somali community activist, told the Washington Post that he has been in touch with Jewish community leaders about Omar. He said he supported her campaign but called her recent comments, “wrong, period.”
“This is up to Ilhan Omar,” he said. “She has really spoken in a very dangerous way, and it’s going to be up to her to reach out to people and fix this.”
Added Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas: “Our community is exasperated by Rep. Omar’s unfulfilled promises to listen and learn from Jewish constituents while seemingly simultaneously finding another opportunity to make an anti-Semitic remark and insult our community.”
Hunegs noted that he had met with Omar, a Somali-American and one of two Muslim women in Congress, after she initially implied that Jewish politicians were bought. Omar re-ignited the flames later, when she once again suggested that groups supportive of Israel were pushing members of Congress to have “allegiance to a foreign country.
“Unfortunately, having the opportunity to speak with her about that point didn’t dissuade her making that statement,” Hunegs said in an interview with The Hill. “We were appalled.”
Omar has apologized for her comments and has support from her Democratic colleagues, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi raised eyebrows earlier this month when she said the congresswoman “doesn’t understand” that some of the words she uses are “fraught with meaning.”
Last week, the House passed a bipartisan resolution condemning hate of all kinds in the wake of Omar’s comments. But Democrats kept Omar’s name out of the resolution, which several Republicans opposed as a watered-down, half-hearted effort.
Any primary challenge would face an uphill battle, given Omar’s strong base of urban support and her backing by the influential Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. An Omar spokesperson told The Hill that Omar was not concerned.
The changing demographics that contributed to Omar’s rise would also likely serve to buttress her 2020 bid. The Somali community grew in Minneapolis rapidly during the 1990s, when large numbers of Somalis fled a devastating civil war. The community has since grown with the addition of U.S.-born children of those refugees – as has the debate over the Somalis’ desire and ability to culturally assimilate.
Minnesota is now home to one of the largest Somali communities in the global diaspora, with an estimated 100,000 living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is the center of the Somali community – and is fondly nicknamed “Little Mogadishu” – for its array of Somali-centered organizations, businesses, and mosques.
Fox News’ Hollie McKay and Edmund DeMarche contributed to this report.