A former Minneapolis City Council member is squaring off for what he called “a rematch” against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) after she defeated him by just two percentage points in 2022’s congressional race. Don Samuels announced his campaign on Sunday, observing that his rival may have already irreparably hurt her own chances for a fourth term.
“She’s dug a deeper hole, especially in this most recent [Israel-Hamas] crisis, and continues to demonstrate that there's an urgent need for new leadership,” Samuels told the Star Tribune.
After announcing his 2022 campaign just five months before the primary election, Samuels lost to Omar by a margin of 2,500 votes. The rivals squared off on most memorably on the issue of defunding the Minneapolis Police Department, with the more centrist Samuels criticizing Omar for backing the department’s overhaul. The 74-year old told the Associated Press he plans to again lampshade Omar’s “predilection to divisiveness and conflict” in the hopes of driving weary voters his way.
This time around, though, one of the issues taking center stage will be the conflict in the Middle East. Speaking to the Star Tribune, Samuels blasted Omar for having “minimized the assault on Israel and exacerbated divisions in the way she frames the problem in Palestine.”
Omar, 41, has faced fresh allegations of antisemitism for voting against a House resolution supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. One of only nine members to oppose the measure, Omar said after the vote that while she mourned “the lives taken by Hamas,” she wanted the resolution to “acknowledge and mourn the lives of Palestinians taken by the Israeli military as well.”
“I also am outraged at the carnage of innocents, and I’d speak against it,” Samuels said Sunday. “But we have to be balanced and we have to speak about things in such a way remembering that America is ultimately, at the end of the day, the broker of peace.”
He is by far the most prominent primary challenger to throw his hat in the ring against Omar. Also running against the congresswoman are Air Force veteran Tim Peterson and attorney Sarah Gad. One Republican, Dalia Al-Aqidi, has also declared her intention to unseat Omar.
Asked about Samuels’ new campaign against her, Omar quipped to MPR News: “Same old, same old.” In a longer statement, the congresswoman noted that “right-wing donors have targeted me since I first entered public life, so I am not surprised that my challenger previously received contributions from Harlan Crow, the same far-right billionaire who bankrolled Clarence Thomas.”
Omar she was similarly nonplussed that Samuels had taken money from a super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has recently been hunting for a viable candidate to oust the three-term congresswoman, according to the AP. In 2022, AIPAC spent $350,000 to goose Samuels’ unsuccessful bid. It was not immediately clear if they planned to back him again; a spokesperson did not immediately return The Daily Beast’s request for comment on the matter, and Samuels told the wire that AIPAC had not tried to recruit him.
But the organization has actively been trying to woo other Democratic candidates for months. In August, Jewish Insider reported that both Minneapolis City Council member LaTrisha Vetaw and state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, the president of the Minnesota Senate, had both been contacted by the group. Neither has declared their intention to run.
Omar is just one of several members of the Squad contending with new primary opponents in the wake of their response to the Israel-Hamas conflict. St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell dropped a bid to push out Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) late last month to instead announce that he would try to unseat Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), who has called for an end to “Israeli military occupation and apartheid.”
“Understand this unique place that we are with the world literally on fire,” Bell said at a news conference, the AP reported. “I think that we need to make certain that we are providing that effective leadership, not only in our district but in D.C. and on the world stage.”
Rep. Jamal Bowman (D-NY) may also be gearing up for a battle courtesy of Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who has not declared but is being courted to run by prominent Jewish Democrats, according to The Wall Street Journal. Latimer, who has never lost an election, would likely be greeted with strong support from groups like AIPAC should he enter the fray, a Democratic consultant told the newspaper.
Bowman has been more measured than Bush in his criticism of Israel, saying earlier this month that the state had a right to defend itself. But he also called on the Biden administration to toughen its stance towards the Israeli government amid intense bombardment of Gaza, suggesting that the U.S. wasn’t going far enough in having “honest conversations” and holding “even our allies accountable when they are violating international law.”
Bowman, Bush, and Omar were also three of more than a dozen lawmakers who signed onto a resolution urging Biden to call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The resolution demands a de-escalation of the conflict, arguing an immediate ceasefire is necessary to “promptly send and facilitate the entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.”