When he was sworn in in 2007, Keith Ellison was a first for Minnesota and a first for America. He became the first African American to represent Minnesota in Congress, and he was the first Muslim to serve in Congress. Since then, he’s had a stellar political career, even rising in the ranks of the Democratic Party. In 2017, he was selected to serve as Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Ellison surprised his constituents in Minneapolis and several western suburbs in June, when he announced he would not be seeking another term in Congress. Instead, he’s decided to run for attorney general of Minnesota. His decision set off a 10-week sprint that saw first eight, then six and now five Democrats in active pursuit of the seat.
He may be replaced by Ilhan Omar. She was born in Somalia, and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight years old. She got her start in politics at age 14 interpreting for her grandfather at local Democratic Party meetings, and she’s been an organizer ever since 5.
Like Ellison, Omar is a history maker. In 2016, she became the first Somali American ever elected to a state legislature after running an inspiring campaign that increased voter turnout by 37% in her district. Since her election she’s been selected by her peers as assistant minority leader in the Minnesota Legislature.
“I’m a working mom. I’m a public high school graduate. I’m a policy analyst. I’m a refugee. I’m an intergenerational organizer. I’m a coalition builder. I’m a graduate with student debt. I’m a public servant with over a decade of experience.”
Omar received the endorsement of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (the Democratic Party in Minnesota). As the state’s dominant political party, it’s an endorsement that would ordinarily bestow considerable advantage on its recipient. But there’s not much that’s ordinary about the Fifth Congressional District contest this summer.
If another pattern prevails, primary voters will be making a choice with long-lasting consequences. The Fifth District has been represented by only four U.S. House members — Walter Judd, Don Fraser, Martin Sabo and Keith Ellison — in the past 76 years.
Others in the race: former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL Somali Caucus founder Jamal Abdulahi and real estate broker Frank Drake (the 2016 Republican candidate for the seat).
The Minnesota Primary is on Aug. 14. If she wins in November, Omar will be the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.