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Samuels optimistic about challenge to Omar

Former Minneapolis City Council member looks to unseat incumbent congresswoman.

MINNEAPOLIS — Don Samuels told reporters Tuesday he believes a coalition of clergy, DFL party veterans and community advocates will make him a competitive contender in his battle to unseat incumbent 5th District Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

A day after the Omar Campaign released a poll showing the second term Democrat with a commanding lead over Samuels in the DFL primary field, the Samuels camp presented its own polling showing the gap is tighter than that.

RELATED: Rep. Omar introduces bill to restrict no-knock warrants

"With the stakes as high as they are in Washington in these divisive times,   people are demanding a different approach to leadership," Samuels remarked.

"This is a time of high conflict, and the exhausted majority is demanding change."

Early voting for the Aug. 9 primary begins June 24. Omar has four DFL challengers, but Samuels is the most well-known of them. Typically, the Democratic primary outcome determines the winner in CD5, where Republicans have been shut out for 60 years.

Five former DFL state party chairs are backing Samuels. His campaign manager is former Rep. Joe Radinovich, who led both of Mayor Jacob Frey's successful citywide campaigns.

"We don’t need someone to make a point in Washington. We need someone to make a difference in Washington," Samuels asserted.

Leaders of two major construction trade unions joined Samuels in his campaign office, to take Rep. Omar to task for her vote against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last fall. The legislation will send billions to Minnesota over the next five years for roads, bridges, transit, broadband, lead pipe replacement and other public works investments. 

"There was a missing vote in the Minnesota delegation I was shocked and surprised to see. That’s the sitting congresswoman in this district who did not support infrastructure," Adam Duininck, who heads the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, told reporters.

Rep. Omar said at the time she would vote against the infrastructure bill because it was only part of the original Build Back Better package President Biden originally proposed, which included more funding for human infrastructure such as child care, universal pre-K and paid family leave.

The original Build Back Better legislation couldn't gain enough support in the Senate over concerns about the $2 trillion price tag. Democrats decided passing the physical infrastructure bill was better than losing the entire package.

The carpenters and operators unions have endorsed both Republican and Democratic candidates in the past. Omar's campaign has received endorsements from other statewide labor unions, including Minnesota AFL-CIO, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, Minnesota Nurses United, American Federation of Teachers, and SEIU Minnesota.

Samuels also criticized Omar for being one of the few Democrats who voted against Russian oil sanctions as part of congressional response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Omar defended that vote by saying it would do more to harm average citizens of Russia and Europe without changing the outcome in Ukraine.

Polling debate

Her campaign released a poll Monday by Change Research showing that Omar is preferred by 60 percent of likely Democratic voters compared to just 21 percent for Samuels.

The Samuels Campaign Tuesday shared polling by Donna Victoria of Victoria Research that put Samuels ahead 43 percent to 38 percent, after respondents were provided more specific messaging on Samuels and his viewpoints.

Samuels objected to message-testing done in the Change Research poll, which implied he had spoken against abortion rights in 2008 while on the city council. That was also brought up in an opinion piece written by an Omar supporter in the Star Tribune.

"I have always supported a woman’s right to choose. I’ve supported it as a Black man who lives in a Black community."

The Omar Campaign said message testing is common, but pollsters asked those questions after first asking about voter preference on the slate of candidates. In other words, they don't believe those questions had any impact on Ilhan's large lead in the Change Research poll.

The Samuels backstory

Samuels is a Jamaican immigrant, who went to design school and became a toy designer after coming the the US in 1970, working for such companies as Hasbro, Milton-Bradley and Playskool. He led anti-violence efforts on the northside, served on the Minneapolis City Council and the Minneapolis School Board, and now runs a microgrant foundation.

He takes particular pride launching the Lights On program in which officers give motorists vouchers to replace broken tail lights and signal lights.

Samuels also fought in court against Ballot Question 2, a proposed city charter amendment that would've replaced the MPD with a public safety department and removed minimum officer staffing requirements from the charter. 

He's also among the plaintiffs in ongoing lawsuit against Mayor Frey and the Minneapolis City Council aimed at forcing Minneapolis to hire the minimum number of officers called for in the city charter.

The Omar backstory

Omar, also an immigrant who spent part of her life in a refugee camp, made history in 2016 as the first Somali state representative in Minnesota. She gained a national following in 2018 as one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress and became part of a group of young progressive BIPOC women in the US House known as "The Squad."

She counts child nutrition funding among her top legislative accomplishments. Her My MEALS Act expanded federally subsidized school lunch programs during the pandemic. It went on to become part of the larger Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Omar also became a lightning rod for Republicans and former President Donald Trump, who railed against her and Somali immigrants in rallies. She drew fire from many sides one month into her first term when she suggested Republicans only support Israel because of campaign funding from pro-Israeli PACS.

In the summer of 2020, she soundly defeated a well-funded DFL primary challenge from local attorney Antone Melton-Meaux, and easily won re-election in the General Election later that year.

She touts a long list of endorsements from progressive organizations heading into her quest for a third term.

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