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Rep. Ilhan Omar wins DFL endorsement over Don Samuels at Minneapolis convention


Sunday May 12, 2024

Omar won her party's backing ahead of a highly anticipated primary election rematch with Samuels. 


U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar reacts after learning she won the Democratic endorsement over Don Samuels at the Fifth Congressional District's DFL endorsing convention in Minneapolis on Saturday. SHARI L. GROSS, STAR TRIBUNE

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar won the DFL's stamp of approval during an endorsing convention in Minneapolis on Saturday, giving her the party's backing as she heads into a highly anticipated primary election rematch against Don Samuels.

Omar's voice broke with emotion Saturday afternoon as she thanked convention goers for supporting her. The Minneapolis congresswoman won the DFL endorsement on the first ballot of voting, the first time she's ever done so.

"It tells me that we should stop listening to the naysayers that talk about the silent majority and listen to the loud majority," Omar said. "We have a lot of work to do to win the primary in August, and I know that we are going to do it."

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Samuels said he's still optimistic he will defeat Omar in August. Two years ago, the former Minneapolis City Council member didn't win the endorsement but came within about two percentage points of defeating the nationally known congresswoman.

"We expect that time is on my side and the second run is in my favor," Samuels said, noting this campaign will be twice as long as his last.

Samuels and his campaign entered Saturday with the goal of blocking — not winning — an endorsement. They hoped that doing so would attract more attention from voters and donors.

The upcoming rematch between Omar and Samuels is expected to be one of the most closely watched Democratic primary elections in the country. Omar and Samuels have developed a heated rivalry since their close first race.

Dozens of campaign signs bearing the two candidates' names were planted in the ground outside South High School in Minneapolis on Saturday, where hundreds of DFLers gathered for the convention.

Inside a crowded auditorium, Omar told the crowd that "we have changed the arc of what is possible" during her time in Congress. She said mainstream Democrats are now embracing ideas she's long championed, such as student debt cancellation and concern for Palestinian human rights.

"My promise to you was to have your back, and I will forever keep that promise," Omar said, before exiting the stage as scores of her supporters trailed behind chanting, "Ilhan!"

Samuels touted himself as a leader who can bring people together during divisive times. He suggested that Omar is among a current political class that "champion a segment of the population and alienate the rest."

"That can't happen anymore," Samuels said to cheers from his supporters. He added that many Americans have stopped speaking to family members or friends because of politics: "There's an exhausted majority looking … for a new kind of leadership that's just tired of the drama."

Two lesser-known Democrats, Air Force veteran Tim Peterson and attorney Sarah Gad, are also running. Peterson and his supporters were at the convention early while Gad's campaign had no presence.

Peterson, a South High School graduate, described himself as a "proud Hubert H. Humphrey Democrat." He told the Star Tribune he's worried about the direction of the Democratic Party, particularly in Minneapolis, where he said, "the extreme left wants to silence people with political violence."

Peterson said he was committed to ensuring the defeat of Omar, whom he believes has only inflamed political tensions in the district: "She's put fuel on the fire and watched it burn."

He withdrew from seeking the endorsement Saturday afternoon and announced he was backing Samuels.



Don Samuels speaks to delegates during the DFL endorsing convention. SHARI L. GROSS, STAR TRIBUNE

The winner of the August primary between Omar and Samuels will almost certainly be elected in November to represent Minnesota's reliably blue Fifth Congressional District, which covers Minneapolis and nearby suburbs.

Omar has maintained a fundraising lead over Samuels, pulling in nearly $1.7 million in the first quarter of this year to his $400,000.

The congresswoman has said this election will not be as competitive as the last. Omar said her attention was divided in the last election and that it's squarely on Samuels this time around.

An outspoken critic of Israel and advocate for a cease-fire in Gaza, Omar believes she's on the right side of an issue that many of her constituents deeply care about. Her supporters hung up signs inside South High School bearing the message, "Ilhan for ceasefire."

The conflict in Gaza was top of mind for Lexy Courneya, a 25-year-old convention delegate alternate who's backing Omar. She said she appreciates the congresswoman's longstanding advocacy for Palestinians.

"I personally believe that Israel is perpetrating a genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza, and that genocide is being funded with American tax dollars," Courneya said.

Courneya was among a group of young people who hoped to speak with Omar about the war in Gaza on Saturday. They wanted to pressure Omar to retract her endorsement of President Joe Biden, whom they believe has enabled Israel's actions.

"It's really important to us that whoever she endorses for president espouses the same views on human rights as she does," Courneya said. "Right now, we see a little bit of a disconnect between her encouragement of a cease-fire and her endorsement of Joe Biden."

Samuels has argued that Omar is a polarizing figure in her district. He's criticized her for making what he views as mostly one-sided statements about the war in Gaza that don't take into account "the sensibilities of the Jewish community." After hammering Omar two years ago for supporting a failed ballot amendment to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, Samuels has shifted his criticism toward her more relevant stance on Israel.

Ethan Litman, an 18-year-old delegate for Samuels, said he can't support Omar's position toward Israel and criticized the congresswoman for recently referring to Jewish students as "pro-genocide or anti-genocide."

"That doesn't sit right," said Litman, a first-time voter and Armstrong High School senior. "Her remarks over the years, it's too inflammatory, too borderline antisemitic for me."



 





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