Rep. Ilhan Omar Faces 3 Democratic Challengers for 2024

Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District is the scene of the 2020 death of George Floyd and the resulting anti-police, Black Lives Matter/Antifa riots of 2020.
Rep. Ilhan Omar Faces 3 Democratic Challengers for 2024
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks to a crowd gathered for a march to defund the Minneapolis Police Department in Minneapolis on June 6, 2020. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Beth Brelje

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) faces a tough primary as she seeks a fourth term in the U.S. House, with three Democratic challengers in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.

Ms. Omar, 41, first took federal office in 2019. Before that, she was an elected member of the Minnesota state House of Representatives.

Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, she and her family fled the Somali Civil War in 1991 and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for four years. At 12, Ms. Omar moved to the United States and settled in Minneapolis, where, according to her campaign website, she fell in love with politics while interpreting for her grandfather at Democratic Party caucuses.

She graduated from North Dakota State University in 2011 with a degree in political science and international studies.

Ms. Omar has drawn criticism for numerous anti-Israel comments and was removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

She’s a member of “the Squad,” a congressional group of far-left progressives, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Her progressive causes include backing a complete shift away from fossil fuels, creating a federal fund to build 8.5 million new units of public housing, and changing immigration policy.

“I am committed to doing all I can to help the over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States come out of the shadows and get access to rights and privileges they deserve,” Ms. Omar said on her campaign website.

“We cannot continue to ignore the plight of migrants and refugees, which is why I’m pushing for a return to our historical role as a leader in refugee resettlement and reform of our existing policies abroad that are causing people to flee their homes for a safer future.”

Diverse District

Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District is the scene of the 2020 death of George Floyd and the resulting anti-police, Black Lives Matter/Antifa riots in many U.S. cities that summer.

Residents of the 5th District are talking about what to do at the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where Mr. Floyd died. Some have suggested building a community center or museum.

The district covers the heart of the densely populated Minneapolis Uptown urban area and broader neighborhoods with wooded yards, single-family homes and some lakefront homes along Lake Harriet and Lake Nokomis.

There’s a large Somali population and a significant Jewish population in the district. Minnesota’s 5th District is home to the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Hospital, Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, the University of Minnesota, and U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.

Primary Competition

Although Minnesota’s presidential primary is on Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024, the state and congressional election will be on Aug. 13.

The Democratic primary winner is likely to prevail in the general election in the strongly Democratic district. In 2022, Ms. Omar had 74 percent of the district’s votes, with Republican challenger Cicely Davis receiving 24 percent.

Here are the Democratic candidates challenging Ms. Omar.

Don Samuels (Samuels campaign)
Don Samuels (Samuels campaign)

Don Samuels, 74, a former member of the Minneapolis City Council, lost to Ms. Omar by just 2 percentage points in the 2022 primary. Mr. Samuels said he’s running to support President Joe Biden’s agenda, strengthen democracy, and promote peace at home and abroad.

He was born in Jamaica. His father was a Pentecostal minister, and his mother was a seamstress. He became a musician, leading the Don Sam Singers, a Jamaican gospel act. When he emigrated to the United States, he worked as a security guard while attending New York’s Pratt Institute. Ultimately, he became a toy designer.

Much of his interest in the race isn’t generated by support for traditional Democratic positions but instead by Ms. Omar’s record, according to a statement from the Samuels campaign. Ms. Omar has offended many constituencies and undermined the Biden administration, the statement states.

“Locally, my opponent was a strident supporter of the defund the police movement, even rebuking President Barack Obama when he referred to it as a ‘snappy slogan’ that would make reform more difficult,” Mr. Samuels said in a statement.

“Nationally, she also voted against President Biden’s signature infrastructure legislation. Internationally, she voted against aid for Ukraine. She voted against sanctions on Russia and previously Turkey, saying that she opposes all sanctions against any nation, ‘friend or foe.’ Yet, she supports them against Israel.”

Timothy L. Peterson (Peterson campaign)
Timothy L. Peterson (Peterson campaign)

Timothy L. Peterson, 44, grew up in the 5th District. He spent 15 years in the U.S. Air Force as a fighter aircraft weapons load crew chief and worked in the Minnesota Army National Guard as a recruiter. Currently, he’s a YouTube marketing consultant. He said he recognizes his place in identity politics.

“I may look like a white man, but I’m white and black; I was raised by a black mother,” Mr. Peterson told The Epoch Times. “I was raised in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. My father was a monk and was married to a man when he passed. I check every one of the boxes these progressives seem to want.”

He has been a football coach, teacher, and small business owner in the neighborhood where Mr. Floyd died, and he has thoughts on policing.

“For 30 years, the ‘Cops’ TV show showed everybody that to be a police officer, we chase down and beat people up. And those are the people that are attracted to the profession. I believe we need more folks with lived experiences in our communities, particularly veterans, on our police force, so we have folks that match our core values,” Mr. Peterson said.

He advocated for federal bonuses to get and keep good police officers where they’re most needed. He envisions $50,000 bonuses to work in a marginalized community, another $50,000 for police officers who come from that community, and another $50,000 retention bonus.

“People tell me they want real leadership on this issue and they’re not getting it,” Mr. Peterson said.

Sarah Gad, 36, describes herself as a Muslim person of color, a formerly imprisoned former drug addict, and, currently, an attorney. Her parents are Egyptian immigrants. Ms. Gad ran for Congress in 2020 in the 1st Congressional District of Illinois, where she was a University of Chicago law student at the time.

Ms. Gad has told her life story frequently, including in a 2019 article she wrote for Marie Claire magazine. It explains that she had a full scholarship to medical school at the University of Pittsburgh.

At 24, she had just passed the first step of medical board exams and was set for an eight-week visiting rotation in ear, nose, and throat surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, when she was injured in a car crash.

After doctors prescribed pain medications, including oxycodone, she became addicted to opioids.

“Between 2013 and 2015, my life was a revolving door, in and out of jail and rehab centers. I would get arrested for a nonviolent drug offense, spend a few days in jail, get sent to rehab, then try to stay clean and get my life back on track,” Ms. Gad wrote in the article.

“Needless to say, jail was not the slightest bit rehabilitative.”

She said she wants to address that in Congress.

Dalia al-Aqidi (Dalia al-Aqidi for Congress)
Dalia al-Aqidi (Dalia al-Aqidi for Congress)

“Instead of setting people up to become public charges, let’s help set them up to become productive taxpayers,” Ms. Gad said on her campaign website.

“Let’s be generous with second chances and allow those who made mistakes to try again. Let’s implement sentencing reforms that eliminate unnecessarily long prison stays.”

So far, only one Republican has entered the race—Iraqi American Dalia al-Aqidi, 55, a pro-Israel Muslim and former journalist who has said that Ms. Omar doesn’t speak for all Muslims. Assuming she’s unchallenged in the primary, Ms. Al-Aqidi will face the winning Democrat in the general election.

Here’s what candidates are working with as of the most recent financial filings, which ended on Sept. 30: Ms. Omar has $646,000 cash on hand; Ms. Gad has $52,000; Mr. Peterson has $12,500; Mr. Samuels has $49,000; and Ms. Al-Aqidi has $2,400.

Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]