Minnesota made history by electing the first refugee and Somali-American woman to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, is a rising star in the Democratic Party who has seen strong support from students and young voters. She won Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District seat Tuesday in a landslide victory, more than tripling the vote total of her GOP challenger Jen Zielinski.
Omar became the first Somali-American legislator in the United States in 2016, when she was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives District 60B, which encompasses the University of Minnesota neighborhoods.
“You all know that I did not run to be a first — I ran because I came to this country, I heard of its promises. And when I looked around this district, [I saw] many who have never known the bounty of the American promise, the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Omar said.
Omar addressed key points she plans to address in Congress to a crowd brimming with supporters on Tuesday. She said she hopes to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, protect women’s and refugee rights and fight climate change.
Campaign workers say Omar’s ability to mobilize students and young voters bolstered her victory in the primaries this August.
“You’re seeing the really young millennial people excited, and the students excited, and the elders excited — so it’s really rare that a candidate can capture the hearts of all of these people,” said Sarah Senseman, who volunteered for Omar’s campaign. “Ilhan is deeply engaged ... she engages across generations, she engages across cultures, and it’s just very clear that she cares.”
Miski Omar, a high school senior who attended Omar’s election night party, said she thinks Omar’s election is inspirational for young women of color.
“Having [Omar] up there being the first Muslim refugee woman of color in Congress is going to inspire so many young Muslim women, and I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “I think about my younger siblings — they have people to look up to.”
As an 8-year-old, Omar and her family fled Somalia, first living in a Kenyan refugee camp for four years before coming to the United States and moving to Cedar-Riverside in 1997.
During her campaign and time in the Minnesota Legislature, Omar supported curbing student debt, improving student housing, dismantling ICE and opening up immigration policy.
Omar announced her bid for Congress shortly after Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., vacated the seat to run for Minnesota Attorney General in June. Omar won the DFL primary in August with more than 48 percent of the vote. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Governor Mark Dayton endorsed Omar’s congressional bid.
Omar defeated Republican Jen Zielinski, who ran on a platform of education, cutting taxes and enforcing immigration laws.
"I like a lot of her talking points and her stances,” said Cory Oberfoell, who doorknocked for Zielinski and attended the Minnesota GOP's election night party.
Abdiaziz Dhoore, 35, who attended Omar’s election night event, said Tuesday’s results will help fight President Donald Trump’s “bullying toward immigrants.”
“It feels like the whole nation is watching,” Dhoore said.
J.D. Duggan, Jordan Willauer and Niamh Coomey contributed to this report.