Ilhan Omar barely fends off primary challenger boosted by right-wing PAC money and "nasty attacks"

Far-right group aligned with Trump and GOP election-deniers funneled money into the Democratic race

Published August 10, 2022 12:30PM (EDT)

Representative Ilhan Omar (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Representative Ilhan Omar (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

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U.S Rep. Ilhan Omar on Tuesday narrowly fended off a Democratic primary challenger whose campaign was bankrolled in part by a GOP operative, corporate lobbyists, and prominent Minnesota businessmen.

Omar, a stalwart progressive who has been a frequent target of racist right-wing attacks and death threats, prevailed by fewer than 3,000 votes, a far closer contest than her 2020 primary. Her opponent, former Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels, conceded the race.

"Tonight's victory is a testament to how much our district believes in the collective values we are fighting for and how much they're willing to do to help us overcome defeat," Omar, the whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said late Tuesday after the race was called in her favor. "This win is for them and everyone who still believes that regression will not be the legacy of the Fifth."

Omar, who has also repeatedly been thrown under the bus by the Democratic establishment, overcame a torrent of outside opposition spending, including from a newly created super PAC financed with donations from Kelly Doran—a Minnesota businessman and commercial real estate developer with a history of donating to Republicans—and Vance Opperman, the head of a private investment firm.

The Drain the DC Swamp PAC, a far-right outfit aligned with former President Donald Trump and GOP election-deniers, also spent against Omar in the primary for Minnesota's solidly blue Fifth Congressional District.

The Intercept reported earlier this year that Samuels, who was previously elected to the Minneapolis school board with the support of right-wing privatization advocates, attended an April fundraiser "headlined by developers, lobbyists, and business leaders, including at least one Republican operative and donor, Andy Brehm; Jonathan Weinhagen, the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce; Steve Cramer, the president and CEO of the MPLS Downtown Council, an organization of more than 450 Minneapolis businesses; a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco; and a former City Council president."

Jeremy Slevin, Omar's senior communications director, noted on Twitter earlier this month that "close to 40%" of Samuel's campaign donations "were more than $200 in the first quarter of 2022 (notably they did not disclose the percentage in the second quarter)."

"This is extraordinarily high," Slevin wrote. "By comparison, 99% of Ilhan Omar's donors were less than $200 in the same time period."

In a statement late Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said that "llhan Omar has faced some of the ugliest attacks of any elected official and had hundreds of thousands of dollars spent against her."

"Despite this, she won her primary once again," said Sanders. "Like Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush, these progressive champions have shown that they persevere and deliver for their constituents despite the well-funded, nasty attacks upon them."

By Jake Johnson

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