What Is the Floor For Ilhan Omar’s Primary Support?
Only six of 290 Minnesota U.S. Representatives since the DFL merger in 1944 failed to win at least 60 percent of the primary vote
Although Minnesota DFLer Ilhan Omar only won her party’s nomination for the 5th CD race with a 48.2 percent plurality in the chaotic summer of 2018 (in a six-candidate field that included three other former or sitting state lawmakers), she followed that up with one of the most decisive U.S. House general election victories by a non-incumbent in state history.
The 78.0 percent won by Omar in her Democratic-friendly district in November 2018 was the third largest percentage tallied by a newcomer to the U.S. House from Minnesota – and the largest of those facing a major party opponent.
It is well-known that these days the only conceivable way Democratic incumbents in the 5th CD lose their seat at the ballot box is to lose their party’s nomination, and in 2020 Omar has drawn the largest number of primary challengers by a sitting U.S. Representative by either party in more than 85 years.
The extremely well-funded campaign of one of these candidates – attorney Antone Melton-Meaux – appears to be making a strong push late in the primary cycle. And while the final result on August 11th may not be a nail-biter, Rep. Omar could emerge with one of these least decisive nomination victories for a sitting Gopher State U.S. Representative in decades.
Since the DFL merger in 1944, only one Minnesota U.S. House member has lost their party’s nomination – 12-term Republican H. Carl Andersen in 1962 who also lost nearly half of his constituency following redistricting that cycle.
From 1944 through 2018, a total of 203 of 290 incumbents have run unopposed for their party’s nomination, plus an additional five this cycle: Republicans Jim Hagedorn, Tom Emmer, and Pete Stauber and DFLers Angie Craig and Dean Phillips.
Of the 87 incumbents who faced challengers, all but the aforementioned Andersen won their respective primaries, and all but five others emerged with at least 60 percent of the vote:
- 1948, 2nd CD: Republican Joseph O’Hara (51.3 percent)
- 1952, 2nd CD: Republican Joseph O’Hara (55.7 percent)
- 1958, 9th CD: DFLer Coya Knutson (56.2 percent)
- 1980, 8th CD: DFLer Jim Oberstar (55.7 percent)
- 1992, 6th CD: DFLer Gerry Sikorski (49.3 percent)
One distinguishing feature of Omar’s race in 2020 is that she is facing a political novice. H. Carl Andersen and the five incumbents enduring close calls mentioned above each faced sitting or former elected officeholders or party officials:
- In 1948 and 1952, Rep. O’Hara was challenged by long-serving state Senator Val Imm
- In 1958, Rep. Knutson was primaried by former 9th Congressional District DFL Chairman Marvin Evenson
- In 1962, Rep. Andersen was defeated by sitting state Representative Robert Odegard
- In 1980, Rep. Oberstar was challenged by Duluth City Councilman Tom Dougherty
- In 1992, Rep. Sikorski eked out a 2.9-point plurality win against former 16-year state Representative and Senator Tad Jude
Over the decades since 1944, all but nine other Minnesota U.S. House members received at least 70 percent of the primary vote:
- 1944, 8th CD: Republican William Pittenger (63.1 percent)
- 1944, 9th CD: Republican Harold Hagen (61.9 percent)
- 1946, 3rd CD: DFLer William Gallagher (66.6 percent)
- 1948, 7th CD: Republican H. Carl Andersen (69.9 percent)
- 1956, 2nd CD: Republican Joseph O’Hara (69.9 percent)
- 1968, 8th CD: DFLer John Blatnik (69.1 percent)
- 1984, 8th CD: DFLer Jim Oberstar (65.1 percent)
- 1992, 5th CD: DFLer Martin Sabo (67.4 percent)
- 2016, 6th CD: Republican Tom Emmer (68.7 percent)
All told, constituents have given the 87 Minnesota U.S. Representatives facing primary opponents since 1944 an average of 81.0 percent of the vote.
No Democratic or DFL lawmaker has ever failed to win their party’s nomination of the more than 40 to serve the state over the last 160+ years.
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1. Due to her high profile and polarising style, Omar seems to find herself in electoral peril similar to former R Representative Michele Marie Amble Bachmann, though in different elections (primary vs general). Also, Herman Carl Andersen lost in 1962 as a result of his entanglement with Billie Sol Estes, aside from “losing nearly half” of his old constituency. Should Omar lose (“a first time for everything”) it arguably may be attributed to her being politically obtuse and abrasive, not unlike her outgoing colleague “Steve” King of IA.
2. It also might be worth noting that this intramural tussle will be the third involving members of the “squad”, after the AOC-Michelle Caruso-Cabrera (easily won by AOC) and the Rashida Tlaib-Brenda Jones (YTD) donnybrooks. By contrast, Ayanna Pressly of MA, who has generated the least amount of headlines among them, has a free ride in early September and a glide path in the 3rd of 11 – an election date that can not be canceled or even delayed by executive fiat, by the way.
Looks like the only poll has her up 37 points—similar to AOC’s margin of victory. And the money against her seems to pouring in from high dollar out of state donors and Super PACs—a lot of it Republican. Contrary to what the earlier commenter said, the fact that AOC and Ilhan Omar can retain the support of their districts, even in the face of the xenophobic attacks and big money spent against them, is a sign of strength, not weakness