Minnesota is poised to elect the first Somali-American to become a state lawmaker anywhere in the nation come November after a community activist upset a 44-year incumbent in a primary on Tuesday.
Ilhan Omar, a community activist who was a former aide in the Minneapolis City Council, beat Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a Democrat who served 22-terms in Minnesota’s state legislature — the longest in state history — in Tuesday night’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party primary, the Star Tribune reported. The seat represents Minneapolis.
Now, on November 8th, Omar will face the Republican nominee and fellow Somali-American, Abdimalik Askar, a television producer and former education administrator.
Omar is heavily favored to win in November’s election — she and Askar are the only two people on the ballot — in the Democratic-leaning district.
Minnesota is home to a large Somali population following the resettlement of Somalis refugees after a prolonged civil war in the early 1990s. The Census says up to 1 in 3 Somalis in the US live in Minnesota — especially in Minneapolis in an area that has been dubbed "Little Mogadishu."
“The work that got us here does not end tonight,” Omar said In her victory speech Tuesday night, where she spoke in English and Somali.
“We have to continue the long work of uniting our district. We have to continue to work together collaboratively in creating the progressive agenda we all believe in. We still have to win the November election.”
Omar and her family fled Somalia’s civil war when she was eight and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for four years before emigrating to the US in 1994.
“As a woman of color, so many people told me that I would not be able to raise money and win this election,” Omar said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.
“Those people were wrong, and I want every young woman of color out there to know that they have the power – and support – to run for office and win."
Supporters for Omar on Tuesday chanted, “It’s time for a women to lead.”
“Our campaign is about connecting with people and engaging them in the political process. We are uniting the diverse voices of our district – long term residents, East African immigrants and students,” Ilhan said in the post-victory statement. “I will make sure their voices are heard at the Capitol.”
Ilhan received 2,404 votes. Her opponents Mohamud Noor, a school board member, received 1,738, and Rep. Phyllis Kahn, the incumbent, received 1,726, according to figures released by Minnesota’s Secretary of State.
Omar and Askar's district In Minneapolis, Minnesota — 60B — contains a diverse community of many East-African residents, and includes the University of Minnesota campus.