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Fifth District primary race heating up

Rep. Ilhan Omar faces four challengers in her DFL primary, including one who has raised more money than the incumbent and advertised heavily

MINNEAPOLIS — If you've turned on the TV lately or watched anything on a mobile device in the Twin Cities you've seen the barrage of advertising from the man who's trying to unseat incumbent Rep. Ilhan Omar, Antone Melton-Meaux.

The political newcomer is one of four Democrats challenging the 5th District Congresswoman in the August 11 DFL primary. That election typically decides who'll capture the seat in November because CD5 has gone six decades without electing a Republican.

"I supported Congressman Omar in 2018 and I was hopeful that she would use her unique platform to do great work for the district, but I’ve been disappointed time and time again," Melton-Meaux, who is an attorney and conflict mediator by profession, told KARE 11.

"We need someone who’s going to show up every day and work hard to bring us together to tackle the difficult problems that we face. I will do that."

Melton-Meaux has raised far more money than Rep. Omar thus far, which has enabled him to introduce himself to voters by advertising heavily in the Twin Cities market, both on TV and with campaign mailers. He also has enough campaign cash to run attack ads against the Omar who made history in 2018 by becoming the first Somali immigrant elected to Congress.

A pro-Israel political organization, Americans for Tomorrow's Future, is also running ads attacking Omar and supporting Melton-Meaux. Omar alienated some Jewish voters with early social media criticism of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby group in Washington.

Both candidates have received the bulk of their money from outside of Minnesota, but Omar leads in the number of smaller donors - those who give less than $200 and don't have to be identified in campaign finance reports.

The challenger has taken heat for accepting donations from PACs and from wealthy individuals who have donated to Republican candidates and causes. Melton-Meaux has worked to downplay the role of conservative donors, pointing out that many of those individuals and PACS have donated to both Republicans and Democrats.

On Friday Omar, the DFL-endorsed candidate in the 5th District, also picked up endorsements from Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.

Melton-Meaux has been endorsed by Josie Johnson, a legendary Minnesota civil rights activist and educator, and by former Minneapolis NAACP president Nekima Levy Armstrong.

Omar in Congress

His main line of attack against Omar is that she missed 40 votes in 2019, or about 5% of all votes she could've participated in during that time period. Omar has countered that she has led the Minnesota delegation in the numbers of amendments and bills passed off the House Floor in the current Congress.

"It’s been the honor of my life to represent marginalized voices of people who’ve been told to go back to the countries they came from and to be a voice that says, 'This is our country and we do have not only representation, but an opportunity to implement our ideas on a federal level'," Omar told KARE. 

She has sparred with President Trump about his ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries, and about her controversial statements about Israel's influence at the Capitol.

While she has been criticized for embracing her celebrity status as a member of "The Squad" on Capitol Hill, Omar asserts she has been able to use her high profile to help form the alliances necessary to move legislation.

She points to her work to add progressive elements to several pieces of legislation -- foreign lobbyists reforms, police reforms, the Meals Act and the Dream Act just to name a few.

RELATED: Battle lines forming around US police reforms

"We hear a lot of conversations about how certain policy goals aren't possible, such as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, Homes for all," Omar remarked.

"But a minimum wage bill and creating a pathway for DACA holders were also supposed to be impossible but we've just moved those forward in the House."

Another line of attack against Omar is that her campaign has spent $1.6 million with the E Street Group, a consulting firm headed by her husband Tim Mynett. In a WCCO-AM Radio debate Friday, Omar asserted that money all went to paying outside vendors for producing ads and buying time slots.

"I don’t pay my husband. I pay the firm to do work," Omar told the moderators.

Her campaign began working with Mynett's group before the two became engaged last year.

The winner of the August primary will face the square off in November with the winner of the Republican and Green Party primaries. Republican primary candidate Lacy Johnson has also raised significant sums of money from conservative donors who want to see Omar unseated.

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