'Squad' sweep as U.S. congresswoman Omar holds off primary election challenger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar held off a well-funded challenger Tuesday and won the Democratic primary in her congressional district, putting her on track for re-election in November along with other members of the “Squad” of four liberal freshmen.

Omar defeated attorney Antone Melton-Meaux, who had accused her of prioritizing her celebrity over her constituents, and several other challengers, the New York Times said.

One of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress in 2018, Omar won 57.2% of the vote Tuesday compared with 39.4% for Melton-Meaux in Minnesota’s 5th district, the Times said. She is likely to win again in November in the solidly Democratic district.

“In Minnesota, we know that organized people will always beat organized money,” Omar, 37, said in a statement. “Despite outside efforts to defeat us, we once again broke turnout records.”

Progressive Democrats have generally done well this primary cycle. With Omar’s victory, all four members of the liberal group of congresswomen nicknamed the “Squad” are expected to be re-elected in the autumn.

The best-known “Squad” member, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, dispatched a primary challenger in June. Last week Representative Rashida Tlaib won her primary, and the fourth Squad member, Representative Ayanna Pressley, is running unopposed in her primary in Massachusetts next month.

Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Vermont and Georgia all held primary elections for Congress on Tuesday. The outcome will help set the stage for November elections to the House of Representatives and Senate that will determine the balance of power in Washington.

Melton-Meaux, an attorney, criticized Omar for her comments on Israel, some of which have been seen as anti-Semitic, as well as her failure to show up for some House votes. His campaign raised over $4 million and received support from pro-Israel groups.

Omar has apologized for some of her statements about Israeli lobbying power, and her campaign said she had good reasons for missing some votes.

Police reforms were a top campaign issue in Omar’s district, where George Floyd, a Black man, was killed in police custody in May, touching off nationwide protests. Omar called for restructuring the police department, while Melton-Meaux said the police function should be “more narrowly focused.”

A refugee from Somalia, Omar quickly became a target of conservative critics after she was elected in 2018. Republicans rebuked her left-wing politics, and President Donald Trump has falsely accused her of supporting al Qaeda. Members of both parties chided her for her comments on Israel.

In Georgia, a Republican businesswoman who has made inflammatory comments about Muslims like Omar and expressed support for QAnon, Marjorie Taylor Greene, defeated neurosurgeon John Cowan in a primary runoff for an open House seat.

QAnon is a fringe belief propagated online that claims “deep-state” traitors are plotting against Trump.

In videos released in June by Politico, Greene suggested that Omar’s election in 2018 was part of “an Islamic invasion of our government.” Republican leaders denounced the comments.

The Republican in the conservative district will likely be elected in November.

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