“… We can translate our calls for justice into legislation …” — Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN-5) in a recent campaign ad.
By Jim Ellis
Aug. 3, 2020 — In the congressional district where the George Floyd killing that ignited massive demonstrations around the country occurred, Minnesota’s controversial 5th District Congresswoman Ilhan Omar faces a serious Democratic primary challenger in the state’s Aug. 11 primary.There has been political talk and news coverage that Rep. Omar, who has become a national political figure and one of the symbols of the Democratic Party’s leftward lurch, could be threatened in this primary election; there are some outward signs that attorney Antone Melton-Meaux has a chance to deny her re-nomination. On the other hand, the only available published poll finds the congresswoman well ahead suggesting there is little chance she would be defeated.
Melton-Meaux has attracted funding from around the country and raised a huge amount — $3.7 million. Since the district is geographically small and covers the city of Minneapolis with population slivers from two adjoining counties, Ramsey and Anoka, the local media market is very efficient for this contest, and he has been using it extensively. Since Minnesota has an open primary – a state that doesn’t register voters by political party meaning people can vote in the primary of their choice – there are few ad viewers who can’t vote in this primary. Therefore, such a system adds a type of wild-card flavor to the campaign.
Melton-Meaux has used his widespread advertising to concentrate on district service. His main premise is to attack President Trump, calling for an end to his “toxic presidency,” as opposed to directly going after Rep. Omar. Without stating major disagreements with Rep. Omar on issues, he does criticize her, however, not by name but tells his audience that he will work for them instead of “chasing cameras and selling books.” Melton-Meaux also criticizes Omar’s poor attendance record in the House and her lack of district service.
Though her principal challenger – there are three other minor Democrats on the ballot – has been active for weeks, Rep. Omar hadn’t responded until recently. She has raised an even larger campaign war chest than Melton-Meaux — $4.2 million — but had less than $750,000 in her account at the end of June. In contrast, the challenger was holding over $2 million for the final weeks.
The bigger story, however, is the late money flow. In the 2nd quarter, Melton-Meaux raised $3.2 million as compared to just $471,000 for Rep. Omar. These figures clearly suggest that he has momentum, which is causing the congresswoman to finally respond.
She is now on the air herself with an ad that she narrates saying that “…we can translate our calls for justice into legislation,” as it shows film of local area protests. Her in-district appearances, responding to an attack against her that she doesn’t serve the area and is largely absent, have also noticeably increased.
Rep. Omar’s internal Change Research poll (Juy 7-9; 509 likely MN-5 Democratic primary voters) gives the congresswoman a huge 66-29 percent advantage over Melton-Meaux, but its methodology is unusual. Change typically operates with a hybrid online polling sample, and likely did so in this poll. Furthermore, the survey appears to be interactive, which is also unusual.
One follow-up question suggests the pollsters were actually showing the respondents Melton-Meaux’s attack ads, since they make the point that Omar’s support actually rose six points after the participants viewed his message. This research tactic is more typical of focus groups, but the sample size is much too large to suggest that the result is from focus group data.
While it’s hard to fully analyze the poll with the information that has been publicly released, we do know that while the methodology is unusual the ballot test spread is likely much too large for a challenger to overcome.
There is a Republican primary, as well, and charter school co-founder Lacy Johnson has raised even more money than Melton-Meaux and just $10,000 less than Omar, $4.27 million, but he has spent most of it, largely in fundraising expenses. In a district that gave President Trump only 18.5 percent of the vote in 2016, a Republican candidate has no chance in the general election.
Regardless of the final outcome, this will be an interesting primary race to watch on Aug. 11.