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DFL congresswomen face challenges from fellow Democrats

Liberal incumbents Ilhan Omar and Betty McCollum both face well-funded primary opponents.

MINNEAPOLIS — Members of the Squad, Capitol Hill's new generation of progressive Democrats, spent the weekend in Minneapolis working to get out the vote for their fellow Squad member Ilhan Omar. Their visit is one sign the incumbent 5th District congresswoman is taking her DFL primary match-up with former City Councilman Don Samuels seriously.

In a district that hasn’t elected a Republican since 1960, the DFL primary is a very reliable predictor who will go on to win in November. This is the second election cycle in a row that Rep. Omar has faced a well-funded primary challenge from within her own party.

“I always say when you push power, power pushes back. So it makes sense we continue to be primaried by people who are supported by right wing donors,” Omar told KARE 11.

Samuels says most of the money that paid for his aggressive TV advertising blitz came from Minnesotans. But he’s not bothered by the fact that some came from Republicans and those who normally back conservative causes.

“My fire in the belly is driven by the people in my proximity, not the people who fund my campaigns,” Samuels remarked.

“For the Republicans it’s a not-having-Ilhan vote. For the Democrats it’s a get-Don-Samuels-in vote.”

Mayor Jacob Frey has endorsed Samuels. That’s not a complete shock. Frey's campaign manager has been running the Samuels campaign. 

Omar backed Frey's opponents Kate Knuth and Sheila Nezhad in last year's mayoral election. She also supported the unsuccessful city charter amendment that would’ve replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety that wouldn’t be under the mayor’s control.

RELATED: 'I'm here to help' | Dr. Cedric Alexander becomes Minneapolis' first Community Safety Commissioner

Samuels fought that amendment and hopes the CD5 primary vote splits the same way. He’s particularly critical of Omar for voting against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and voting against economic sanctions on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.

“I'm trying to make a transition between disorder and order, between disorder and collaboration.”

Omar said her support for police reform doesn’t mean she’s dismissing the crime wave that has plagued Minneapolis and other cities.

RELATED: Public safety emerges as top issue in race for 5th Congressional District

“We all want to do the work of making our communities be safe and feel safe. I grew up in Minneapolis. I've been here for the last 25 years. I’ve raised my children here.”

In 2020, Omar fought off a primary challenged from professional mediator Antone Melton-Meaux.  He was supported by Democrats who were disillusioned with Omar because of her criticism of Israel and the Israeli government’s influence on Congress. He was also supported by Republicans because Omar criticized Trump for imposing travel bans on Muslim-majority countries.  

But Omar, who made history in 2016 as the first Muslim woman in the Minnesota legislature and again as the first Somali immigrant elected to Congress, still has the support of many progressives. She’s endorsed by Attorney General Keith Ellison and Senator Bernie Sanders.  

She says her vote against the infrastructure package was out of protest because it didn’t go far enough. It lacked the human infrastructure funding, such as childcare, that was part of the original Build Back Better bill.

While progressive Ilhan Omar is being challenged from the right in CD5, US Rep Betty McCollum is being challenged from the left in CD4 for not being progressive enough.

Ethiopian refuges Amane Badhasso, a community organizer endorsed by Take Action, is challenging McCollum, who has held the Fourth District seat in Congress for 22 years.

“Folks want access to a livable wage, they want Medicare for all, and they want to be able to leave a livable planet for their children,” Badhasso told KARE 11.

She said entrenched incumbents who accept campaign donations from corporate PAC money are likely to serve corporate special interests instead of their own constituents.

“I am running for Congress because now is the time to have a new generation of leadership that are willing to prioritize important issues that are impacting folks across District 4 and across the country.”

When we caught up Rep. McCollum at a ribbon cutting on a new interchange on Highway 36 in Stillwater, where she was surrounded by local leaders and state lawmakers of all stripes.

“The cooperation and the team spirit we've developed out here in the east metro is something that makes me excited about going back to Congress,” McCollum told KARE.

“It’s exciting the work I do. Right now, it’s really important. The fight for women’s rights is very important."

Most recently, McCollum has angered Republicans by battling to ban copper-nickel mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area watershed. She also chairs the Defense Subcommittee on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, an example of how her seniority has helped.

“I'm not going to take a back seat and apologize for the years I've there,” McCollum said. “Because in those years I've learned how to make the system work for the people I represent.”

If you'd like more information about the Aug. 9 primaries, or how to vote, check out KARE 11's Voter Tool Kit.

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