Somali Arab American Ilhan Omar wins Minnesota Congressional primary
Ilhan Omar, a 36-year-old Somali refugee who immigrated as a teenager to America, won Minnesota’s Democratic primary election contest among five other candidates to succeed Congressman Keith Ellison. Ellison, who is also Muslim American, retired in the face of domestic abuse allegations. Despite the allegations, Ellison has announced his intention to run for Minnesota attorney general.
Compiled by ArabAmerica.com
Just a week after Rashida Tlaib’s victory as the first Palestinian-American to become the first Muslim congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, an Arab American of Somali heritage, won the Democratic primary in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. In November, she could become the first Somali-American Muslim to serve in the U.S. Congress with Rashida Tlaib.
“In my last race, I talked about what my win would have meant for that eight-year-old girl in that refugee camp,” she told a crowd of supporters after her win. “And today, today, I still think about her and I think about the kind of hope and optimism all of those eight-year-olds around the country and around the world get from seeing your beautiful faces elect and believe in someone like me.”
Omar defeated former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, among other candidates, to advance to the November election.
In June, Omar filed to run for U.S. Representative from Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. The seat opened when incumbent Keith Ellison launched a last-minute bid for attorney general, leaving the seat after six terms.
Tuesday’s primary could be a de facto election given the fact that a Republican has not won the congressional seat for many years.
In 2016, Omar was elected a Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party-member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, making her the first Somali-American legislator elected to office in the United States. She is the Director of Policy and Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network.
Omar was born in Somalia. She was the youngest of seven siblings. Her father, Nur Omar Mohamed, is Somali, and worked as a teacher trainer. Her mother was Yemeni, and died when Omar was a child. After spending part of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp, she immigrated to the United States at the age of 12.
Omar is currently the Director of Policy & Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network. The association advocates for women from East Africa to take on civic and political leadership roles.
In the election, Omar positioned herself as the candidate best equipped to counter President Donald Trump in Congress.
She was supported by Rashida Tlaib, who won the Democratic nomination for Michigan’s 13th District replacing John Conyers. She was also supported by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York City congressional candidate who unseated a longtime Democratic incumbent in June.
In 2017, Time Magazine named Omar among its “Firsts: Women who are changing the world”, a special report on women who broke barriers in their respective disciplines, and featured her on the cover.
“Tonight, we are celebrating because we engaged and empowered our community and we won, Omar stated to her supporters last night, “Our campaign staff, our volunteers, and the people of the Fifth Congressional District are the inspiration we need to get up every day and fight for a democracy that guarantees a more just and equitable society.”