Washington –Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, a member of the Progressive team, secured a closer-than-expected Democratic primary victory Tuesday against a centrist challenger who questioned the incumbent’s support for the “defund the police” movement.
The evening went well for another progressive, Becca Balint, who won the Democratic House primary in Vermont – positioning her to become the state’s first female representative in Congress.
A key race was unfolding in western Wisconsin, where Democratic Rep. Ron Kind’s retirement after 26 years in office opens up a seat in a Republican-leaning district. The GOP candidate vying to replace Kind is a former Navy SEAL who attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, which preceded the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
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Omar survives a tough challenge
Omar, who represents Minneapolis and is a leading left-wing voice in Congress, defended calls to redirect more public safety funding to community programs. She clashed with former City Councilman Don Samuels, whose north Minneapolis base suffers from more violent crime than other parts of the city.
Samuels argued that Omar is divisive and helped defeat a ballot question last year that sought to replace the city’s police department with a new public safety unit. He and others also successfully sued the city to force it to meet minimum police staffing levels required in the Minneapolis charter.
Samuels said his narrow loss shows Omar is beatable: “If it was the general election, no doubt we would have won this race.” Omar replied, “Tonight’s win is a testament to how much our district believes in the collective values we fight for.
Barb Atkinson, a 53-year-old part-time event planner for a radio station that supported Samuels, called Omar “too left-wing.”
“While I respect Ilhan Omar and what she has done, I disagree with defunding the police. I really think that wording sends the wrong message,” Atkinson said. She added: “We need our leaders to work together to solve this problem.”
Omar, who is seeking his third term in the House, crushed a similar primary challenge from a well-funded but lesser-known opponent two years ago.
“She has already had a lot of adversity and setbacks. I don’t think his job is done,” said Kathy Ward, a 62-year-old property caretaker for an apartment building in Minneapolis who voted for Omar. “We have to give him a chance.”
Two other team members — Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri — won their Democratic primaries last week.
Two Elections, One Seat in Southern Minnesota
Meanwhile, voters in southern Minnesota were deciding two races tied to the same seat vacated by Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died earlier this year of cancer.
A special election for the remainder of Hagedorn’s term pitted Republican Brad Finstad, who served in the US Department of Agriculture during the Trump administration, against Democrat Jeff Ettinger, a former chief executive of Hormel Foods. The two won a special primary election on May 24 for the seat of Hagedorn until January – although the race was too early to call on Wednesday morning.
Either way, Finstad and Ettinger will face off again in November for a full term in the district – it includes Rochester and Mankato – after each securing their party’s nomination on Tuesday. Ettinger faced minimal primary opposition while Finstad had little trouble fielding state Rep. Jeremy Munson. Munson said he doesn’t believe President Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate – although federal and state election officials, the courts and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence that the 2020 presidential election was tainted.
Replace Ron Kind
Republicans see a pickup opportunity in Wisconsin’s 3rd congressional district, with the seat vacated by Democratic incumbent Kind.
The district covers a strip of counties along Wisconsin’s western border with Minnesota and includes La Crosse and Eau Claire. Republican Derrick Van Orden was unopposed in his primary on Tuesday and has Trump’s endorsement.
Van Orden narrowly lost to Kind in the 2020 general election. He attended Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ rally near the White House but said he never set foot on the Capitol grounds. during the uprising.
State Sen. Brad Pfaff edged out three other Democrats to secure the party’s nomination and will face Van Orden in the fall. Pfaff, a former agriculture secretary, had previously worked for Kind and received its endorsement.
Rare Vermont Open Senate Seat
Vermont is the latest state in the country to add a woman to its congressional delegation. Balint, who immediately becomes the frontrunner in the November general election, would also be the first openly gay member of Congress from Vermont.
It has been endorsed by some of the country’s top leaders on the left, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“Vermont has chosen a bold and progressive vision for the future, and I will be proud to represent us in Congress,” Balint said in a statement.
Balint is vying for the state’s only seat in the House, which is vacated by Rep. Peter Welch, who is running for the Senate and easily secured the Democratic nomination on Tuesday. Welch is trying to succeed Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Senate’s longest-serving member, who is retiring, creating Vermont’s first open Senate seat since 2006, when Sanders took over from Jim Jeffords.
Balint defeated Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray, a former Welch staffer and was backed by Leahy and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. In November, she will face Liam Madden, a Marine Corps veteran from Bellows Falls who secured the Republican nomination.
Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski, Doug Glass and Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis, Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, and Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, contributed to this report.