Ilhan Omar is a state representative who’s amassed a lot of political capital, and a large national following in a relatively short career. She hasn’t been shy about using that power to lift up new leaders, as when she took the unusually bold step of endorsing Phillipe Cunningham’s successful 2017 campaign against powerful longtime Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson.
Former Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, might be Omar’s most credible opponent. A lot of people recall Kelliher’s earlier political career with fondness. She’s a competent politician by all accounts. But I’m looking at this race partly with a hyperlocal lens. I go out of my way to avoid further entrenching the Lisa Goodman/Barb Johnson wing of the local DFL. Margaret Anderson Kelliher is the definition of old guard; take a look at her endorsement list, which includes Goodman and Johnson.
(To illustrate my point: I recall being frustrated by former Senator Al Franken’s endorsement of Lisa Goodman for Minneapolis City Council in 2017. Why did our celebrity senator, who I’d never heard say a word about Minneapolis issues, have to put his thumb on the scales to help an already heavily favored, well-funded incumbent on the eve of the caucuses? Of course, I understand it’s the most natural thing in the world for entrenched incumbents to endorse their good friends: other longtime incumbents.)
|Kelliher campaign mailer
|Omar campaign video
There’s likely not much practical difference in how Omar or Kelliher would vote as members of Congress. But there is a significant difference in how they’re campaigning. I see Kelliher targeting reliable older voters in her advertising. Likewise, Kelliher’s social media posts give the impression of a campaign focused (probably smartly) on older suburbanites.
Omar’s constituency includes more young people, people of color, immigrants–the kind of District 5 voters the DFL needs to maximize to win in statewide and presidential elections. And that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of older white people excited for her campaign. Omar has vowed to pick up Keith Ellison’s mantle and become a voter turnout machine. I believe Omar can do this. I’m pretty certain that Kelliher can’t.
So it’s a simple choice for me: Ilhan Omar, the leader who won’t just win elections for herself, but is willing to put herself out there to win elections for a new generation of leaders.
Note # 1: Local writer Naomi Kritzer has very nice things to say about the other credible candidate in District 5, Patricia Torres Ray (while also arriving at Omar as her top choice). If you can’t vote for Omar, I’d suggest Torres Ray.
Note #2: Please enjoy Kelliher’s weird commercial featuring a staged protest and candidate acting as the supervisor of a sweatshop (allegedly) that produces American flag quilts.