How Ilhan Omar Won Over Hearts in Minnesota’s Fifth

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Source: The New Yorker

By 

Most coverage of Ilhan Omar, the thirty-five-year-old state legislator who won the Democratic primary in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District last night, has focussed on her identity. She was born in Somalia, and she came to the United States when she was twelve, knowing only two phrases of English: “hello” and “shut up.” Now her primary victory makes her likely to become the first Somali-American and one of the first two Muslim women (along with Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib) in Congress. But stories about these “firsts” tend to miss Omar’s certainty about who she is, and the rightness of her desire to “expand what is politically possible,” including cancelling student debt, banning private prisons, increasing the number of refugees admitted to the U.S., and cutting funding for “perpetual war and military aggression.” She supports passing a national bill of rights for renters, the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act, and automatically registering every eighteen-year-old to vote. These are the stances Omar is referring to when she speaks, as she does often, about “a politics of moral clarity and courage.”

On Tuesday night, the city of Minneapolis broke a record for turnout in a midterm primary. Omar beat her closest Democratic rival by more than twenty thousand votes, out of 135,318 votes cast for Democrats in the Fifth District, which includes Minneapolis and its inner-ring suburbs. (Compare that to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory last month, in New York’s Fourteenth District: she won by four thousand votes, out of only twenty-eight thousand cast.) Around 9:30 p.m., shortly after the race was called, Omar ascended a podium at a Somali restaurant called Safari to the power anthem “Wavin’ Flag,” by the Somali-Canadian pop singer K’naan. She paused to acknowledge a chorus of ululations before addressing the room.

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