Minneapolis — Ilhan Omar is a step closer to becoming the nation’s first Somali-American state lawmaker after winning a three-way DFL primary race Tuesday, ending the career of one of Minnesota’s longest-serving legislators, Phyllis Kahn.
With 41 percent of the vote the Somali-American community activist and former city council aide easily beat 43-year incumbent state Rep. Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, along with former Minneapolis school board member Mohamud Noor.
Hundreds of Omar’s supporters packed into a stuffy restaurant banquet room for her victory rally Tuesday night. Flanked by her husband and children, Omar said her campaign appealed to a diverse base of voters and proved skeptics wrong.
“A lot of people I admire had bought into the narrative of misogyny that they believed existed in my community and didn’t think it was possible for a woman to win this seat in my community,” Omar said as her supporters cheered. “I want to remind them that I come from a great community.”
Omar, 33, was born in Somalia and fled the country’s civil war as a child. She and her family spent four years in a refugee camp across the border in Kenya before moving to the United States. They settled in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
Outside the restaurant, supporter Hared Maah said Omar’s primary win is not only historic, but also a repudiation of the anti-Muslim vitriol in national politics.
“I think this is a testament to the understanding that communities in Minnesota, in Minneapolis specifically, have toward diversity, that an educated Muslim woman can win against a veteran politician,” Maah said.
Kahn, 79, is one of the most senior politicians at the Minnesota Capitol, but she will not be back for a 23rd term in the House. First elected in 1972, Kahn is tied for tenure only with fellow Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL- Crystal, who did not face a primary challenge.
With a group of about 20 supporters at a Central Avenue bar, Kahn congratulated Omar on her victory.
“The voters have spoken, and that’s what happens when the voters speak,” she said. “Ilhan obviously ran a very good campaign, mobilized a lot of people that we didn’t see before in previous elections.”
Though she’s favored to win in this DFL-heavy district, Omar says she’s mobilizing her supporters for the general election in November. That’s when she’ll face Republican rival Abdimalik Askar, a Somali-American television producer and educator.