ST. PAUL — U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Democratic challenger Antone Melton-Meaux on Friday, July 31, faced off in a virtual debate focused on Omar's first term in Congress and her competitors' arguments for why they should unseat her.
It was the first and only candidate debate set to occur before the Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates square off in the 5th Congressional District Primary Aug. 11. WCCO Radio hosted the discussion, which also included Democrat John Mason.
Melton-Meaux and Mason both jabbed at Omar's reputation as a far-left figure in the U.S House of Representatives and argued they could more effectively represent the 5th District without forging divisions in the Democratic Party. Omar, meanwhile, said she'd been a coalition-builder in Congress and had worked for her district to represent their values there.
The three competitors said they had similar policy priorities and each planned to represent progressive values if elected. But they split on the best approach to getting those plans approved in Congress and to working with constituents.
Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on Friday endorsed Omar in the contest that is increasingly viewed as a tight race. Omar was quick to tout the endorsement and nods she's received from other Minnesota Democrats, labor unions and community groups.
"I have done the work of building the coalitions in the district, in Congress, to try to make sure that we have our voices implemented in every single piece of legislation that is introduced," Omar said. "We have been delivering."
Omar said she planned to continue working with constituents to get their voices heard in Washington if reelected, and she said groups that opposed her for being the first Somali American and Muslim woman elected to Congress were backing her opponent.
“These are people that are very much invested in creating a toxic environment, that are invested in a president that not only has a Muslim ban but invested in singling out the only member in Congress that actually comes from one of those countries that is on the Muslim ban,” she said. “It is clear that not only does he not want me in Congress, he doesn’t want me in this country.”
Melton-Meaux's campaign has raised millions of dollars in his effort to unseat Omar and his most recent quarterly filing showed he brought in $3.2 million. He defended his funding and said GOP groups that contributed also pitched in to support other Democratic candidates around the country. And Melton-Meaux rejected the assessment that he was anti-immigrant.
"These arguments they're making are simply a desperate attempt to resurrect a campaign that's in trouble because we have momentum and people can see that," Melton-Meaux said.
Melton-Meaux said Omar has been absent for various House votes and has developed a reputation as a divider in the party and in the chamber. And he said he could better represent the district. Omar rejected the comments.
“The toxic nature in Washington has kept us from getting to solutions in education, health care and climate because we don’t need more dividers, we need more uniters and that’s who I am as a person,” Melton-Meaux said.
Omar also fielded a question about $600,000 that she recently reported her campaign paid to her husband's firm, saying she didn't directly pay that to her husband and the funds were used to create and send out campaign ads.
Mason, who reported lower campaign finance contributions than his competitors, said he had a strong social media following and would bring a Minnesota progressive approach to the position.