Challengers Line Up to Defeat Minnesota Incumbents
U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Betty McCollum are among Minnesota legislators facing potential challengers for a shot on the 2024 ballot. MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

Challengers Line Up to Defeat Minnesota Incumbents

U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Betty McCollum are among Minnesota legislators already facing potential challengers in the next primary.

WASHINGTON — Minnesota’s primary elections are nearly a year away, yet Minnesota’s members of Congress have already attracted more than a dozen challengers or possible challengers.

The most targeted member of the delegation, but not the most vulnerable, is Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District. That’s mainly because the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a national political action committee that spends millions each election cycle on congressional races, has put Omar in its sights because of her stance on Israel. Omar has been critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and led a small group of U.S. House members in a boycott of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s speech to a joint session of Congress this summer.

AIPAC spent $350,000 in independent expenditures in 2022 to help Omar primary challenger Don Samuels – to no avail – and is ready to do so again. An AIPAC spokesperson did not return requests seeking comment. Samuels lost to Omar in the 2022 primary by 2,500 votes, a narrow margin for a congressional election.

Omar has attracted two Democratic opponents, Tim Peterson, an Air Force veteran from Minneapolis, and attorney Sarah Gad.

But AIPAC is trying to woo other Democratic candidates to run against Omar, a campaign first reported by Jewish Insider. Minneapolis City Council member LaTrisha Vetaw, who represents the city’s 4th Ward, has been approached. So has DFL state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, the president of the Minnesota Senate.

Vetaw, who is running for reelection to her council seat this year, has declined to say whether she would challenge Omar. Champion said he’s been approached by “a cross section of people,” both Jewish and not, to run against Omar.

Champion had considered running for the 5th District seat in 2018, the year Omar first won the seat, but decided against it. “I put my hat in and took my hat out,” Champion said.

He now says he “hasn’t thought about” running for the seat again.

“I never, ever make a decision based on people asking me to do something,” Champion said.

Samuels is also considering a rematch, his former campaign manager has said.

University of Minnesota political science professor Michael Minta said the outspoken, progressive Omar is always going to draw political rivals.

“She is going to have perpetual challengers, and a lot of that has to do with her stance against Israel,” Minta said.

Reacting, perhaps, to AIPAC’s campaign to unseat her, the entire slate of Democratic House leaders endorsed Omar’s reelection last week.

“Rep. Omar has been elected by her constituents three times and has consistently stood up for them, including through her service on the House Budget Committee. … I vigorously endorse her reelection and stand with her as we battle Extreme MAGA Republicans for the future of our nation,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a statement.

McCollum also challenged 

The longest serving member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th District, has also drawn challengers: Republicans Mike Casey and Democrat Aswar Rahman.

Casey, a retired Army veteran from St. Paul, has never run for political office before.

Casey campaign spokesman Matthew Brodsky said the Republican is getting into the race early because “it gives him a lot more time to press the flesh, raise money and determine the extent to which constituents feel they are on the right or wrong track.”

Rahman, who emigrated to Minnesota from Bangladesh when he was six years old,  said he was prompted to challenge McCollum in the Democratic primary because of the lawmaker’s opposition to U.S. plans to provide cluster bombs to Ukraine.

“I agree with (McCollum) on almost everything, but I don’t agree with her on everything,” he said.

A digital consultant who made an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Minneapolis in 2017, Rahman established a Ukrainian resettlement program in the United States and said Ukraine needs cluster bombs to win its war with Russian.

Because they kill indiscriminately and sometimes fail to explode, posing a danger for decades, cluster munitions are prohibited by more than 100 countries. But Russia, Ukraine and the United States have not signed onto the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans production, stockpiling, use and transfer of the weapons.

McCollum is the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, and her opposition to cluster bombs is shared by many Democrats.

Rahman said he knows he’s an underdog in this race. “It’s not going to be easy, (McCollum) has been in office a little over two decades,” he said.

Craig ready for her rivals

Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District, may find it harder to win reelection. Representing a swing district, which has been represented by both Democrats and Republicans, Craig has been targeted by the National Republican Campaign Committee and has amassed a huge war chest, more than $1 million, to stave off rivals.

For 2024 she has drawn two GOP opponents: Attorney Tayler Rahm of Burnsville and Mike Murphy, the former mayor of Lexington. Rahm is running as a political outsider. His campaign website says “he has had enough of career politicians screwing the people and is ready to fight for the people.”

Murphy is running as a fiscal conservative who wants to rein in federal spending and lower the national debt. Murphy sought the GOP endorsement for governor in 2022.

While Craig has had tight races for reelection, her margin of victory has been growing. And statistics show it’s very hard to unseat an incumbent. According to OpenSecrets, 94.5% of congressional incumbents won reelection in 2022.

Klobuchar ‘runs better than (Democratic) baseline’  

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar is also running for reelection next year.  She has already drawn three Republican challengers: Patrick Munro, John Berman and Mike Ruoho, none of whom have raised any campaign cash yet.

Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics said Klobuchar has a safe seat and that the Republican Party has “many other more promising Senate targets this year.”

“(Klobuchar) has shown an ability to perform better than the partisan baseline in the state,” Kondik said. “At a bare minimum I’d think the Republicans would have to win the state for president in order to defeat her, and even then she might still run ahead.”

Kondik said his center has rated Minnesota “Likely Democratic” in next year’s presidential election.

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Meanwhile, the only congressional Republican from Minnesota that has  attracted a rival so far is Rep. Pete Stauber, R-8th District. University of Minnesota-Duluth economics professor Jen Schultz, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Stauber last year, is telling supporters she is running again and raising campaign cash.

There is still plenty of time for candidates to decide they want to challenge a sitting member of Congress before the June 4 filing deadline.

Yet Minta said it’s advantageous to start early.

“You need time to raise money and get out your message,” he said. “It’s hard to beat an incumbent.”