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Minnesota Primary Preview: 5th Congressional District

Tuesday August 7, 2018
By John Croman

The battle to replace Congressman Keith Ellison has drawn four strong Democrats and a candidate who ran for the same office last time as a Republican.

MINNEAPOLIS -- In Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, five candidates are battling to replace Congressman Keith Ellison in one of the most reliably Democratic districts in the nation.

CD5, which is comprised of Minneapolis and some surrounding suburbs, has been a liberal stronghold for the past five decades. So, in effect, the winner of the DFL primary Tuesday is virtually assured to take a seat in the U.S. House next January.

The scramble for Ellison's seat started on filing deadline day in June, when the six-term congressman decided to run instead for the post of attorney general. That was a day after Lori Swanson, the incumbent AG, announced she was running for governor.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher

Former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher is the biggest name in the race. The Mankato native spent 12 years in the state legislature, and currently heads the Minnesota High Tech Association.

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In 2008, she pushed through the transportation funding bill over Governor Pawlenty's veto, by enlisting the help of six suburban Republican members. Two years later, Kelliher won the DFL party's endorsement for governor, but eventually lost the nomination to Mark Dayton in the primary.

"This is a really important time in our country's history," Kelliher told KARE and MPR.

"I will be holding the Trump administration accountable for the things that they are doing, everything from rollbacks in health care and the dismantling of entitlements, which is next on the agenda for this administration, I want to protect things like Medicare and Medicaid," she said.

Rep. Ilhan Omar

Rep. Ilhan Omar of southeast Minneapolis has captured national attention since 2016, when she unseated 44-year incumbent Phyllis Kahn to become the first Somali refugee elected to any state legislature.

Omar arrived in the United States at age 12, and worked in a variety of private and public sector jobs before running for office. She asserts her story uniquely positions her to take on the rhetoric and policies emanating from the Trump White House.

"As someone who's lived in the absence of democracy and has lived in a military dictatorship as a young kid, I know what happens when tyrants are given the opportunity to grow their power," she said.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray is a native of Colombia who worked as a Guardian ad litem, a state ombudsperson for families and a child services administrator for the Minn. Dept. of Human Services before entering politics.

She has spent the past 12 years in the Minnesota Senate, representing southeast Minneapolis.

"I have served predominantly low income populations, communities of color," Torres Ray explained.

"I feel like those are the most affected families today under this administration."

As an immigrant who arrived in the U.S. in 1987 speaking no English, she has also focused on immigrant rights issues, such as the driving-only driver's license for undocumented immigrants.

"I really have lived the American dream, now I'm fighting for the American dream for others," she said. "This is my life and I want it to continue to be my life. I'm very thankful to Minnesota."

Voters cast their ballots at the Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis on Nov. 8, 2016. 

Jamal Abdulahi

Jamal Abdulahi has played a key role as a political organizer in the Somali community. But as an electrical engineer by profession, he worked on fighter jet computer systems for defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin.

That's why he felt especially wronged when then-candidate Donald Trump appeared to demonize Somali immigrants in his only campaign rally in Minnesota in 2016.

"With large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state, without your knowledge! Without your support or approval," Trump told a cheering crowd at MSP International Airport, days before the election.

Abdulahi fled his war-torn, drought-stricken homeland of Somalia in 1992.

"From where I worked at Lockheed for eight years, and built mission computers for F-35 and F-22 and F-62, giving American men and women the best equipment possible, he stood about four miles from there and said, listen Minnesota, the Somalis are your problem. And I'm like, 'You've gotta be kidding me'!"

All four Democrats in the race support abolishing ICE and replacing it with another agency. They also back universal background checks for firearms, and would take part in attempts to impeach President Trump.

They also envision widening access to health care by moving away from the current private insurance model.

Frank Drake

None of those ideas sound good to Frank Drake, an Edina real estate agent who's in the DFL primary this year, after running as a Republican in 2016.

"I'm going to be the first inner city congressman that will allow -- that will work with this president, you don't have to like him but you can just be neutral with the federal government," he said.

Drake believes the United States should stop sending troops to conflicts in the Middle East, and he's not a big fan of President Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico. But he said Minnesota could benefit from it.

"I think if he wants that stupid wall, we should use Minnesota taconite! Ship it down the Mississippi, there's a huge window of opportunity for Minnesota."

So why would a lifelong Republican run in the DFL primary? It may be his best chance.

The last Republican CD5 in Congress, Rep. Walter Judd, left office back in 1963.

The Minnesota Primary is Tuesday, August 14.

Reporter Tim Nelson of KARE 11's news gathering partner Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) has created a complete list of candidate profiles and interviews. You can find them on the MPR website.

Click here