Primary 2014: Kahn, Loon hold on to legislative seats

Phyllis Kahn celebrates
Rep. Phyllis Kahn celebrates her primary win with supporters Tuesday evening at Mattie's on Main in Minneapolis.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

Updated: 9:52 a.m. | Posted: 6:45 p.m.

In two of the most hotly contested political races in the state, longtime Democratic legislator Phyllis Kahn and veteran Republican state Rep. Jenifer Loon both survived strong challenges.

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The most divisive of the two likely was the the contest involving Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who had to fight off huge challenge from Minneapolis School Board member Mohamud Noor in House District 60B. With all precincts reporting, Kahn won with 60.63 percent of the vote.

In Eden Prairie, Loon survived another closely fought contest. With all precincts reporting, she won 60.63 percent of the vote to fight off a stiff challenge from Sheila Kihne.

But the most watched contest was the contest in Minneapolis, where Kahn navigated a complicated contest in a district with changing demographics against Noor, who would have been the first Somali representative in the Legislature.

In conceding the race, Noor said the divisiveness ends today.

Mohamud Noor at his campaign headquarters
Mohamud Noor arrived at his campaign headquarters in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis during Tuesday's primary.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

"We are not divided," he said. "We are one community, and we will thrive as one community."

Before the polls closed, Zahra Dirir, a relative of Mohamud Noor who lives in Eagan, said having a representative in the state House would mean a lot to Somali-Americans across the state. She said his campaign for this Minneapolis district had attracted the support of people from across the state.

Among those who volunteered to help Noor is 16-year-old Ekram Mohamed, who has been working for the campaign since July, first helping people to cast their votes early and today making one last-ditch effort to get people to the polls. City officials say the early voting turnout broke city records.

"We knocked on doors, call phones and tell them about the election and remind them, then they'd pick a day when they want to vote, and we'd pick them up and take them to City Hall," Mohamed said.

Noor had been counting on strong support from the Somali community in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood to help him win the race, which has divided the Somali-American community and the DFL Party. He has told voters that Kahn has not used her seniority to help constituents in the diverse and rapidly changing district who are burdened by poor health and unemployment.

Kahn, first elected in 1972, has a record of working on behalf of the disadvantaged. She has tried to counter Noor's momentum with votes from neighborhoods near the University of Minnesota. She has sought to remind voters that newcomers at the State Capitol have little influence.

People gather outside Mohamud Noor's headquarters
As polls closed today, people gathered outside Mohamud Noor's campaign headquarters in Minneapolis.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

That message resonated with Sonja Quanbeck, a longtime resident of Cedar-Riverside who supported Kahn.

"She's been a good representative on a broad range of issues," Quanbeck said. "She's been there a long time and I know that seniority counts for a lot in the House."

Another Kahn supporter, Mohamed Jama, said she is the more progressive and experienced candidate.

"For us this is more of an issue rather than a skin color or creed," Jama said. "This neighborhood is a very fragile community, and we need a lot of support from the legislative level, and I think Kahn can do a lot for this community."

The campaign has been so heated that city election officials took security precautions at precincts in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, where there was a fight at a DFL precinct caucus earlier this year.

Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl said both campaigns have had to be reminded today to stay at least 100 feet from the Brian Coyle Center polling place.

"I think they're people who are passionate about their candidates and their campaigns, and who are trying to make sure that the voters they're bringing to the polls, or assisting at the polls, are able to get in," Carl said. "And we have to be there to remind them that there is a 100-foot buffer zone and to please respect that and leave."

Jama said the community isn't divided. Instead, he said, Somali-Americans are relishing the chance to participate in democracy.

"People have the right to choose who they want to elect, and our community has decided to be on both sides of the river," he said. "For us to do that is really smart, I don't really look at it as a division."

Another closely fought contest was the one between Loon and Kihne -- a race that focused in part on how voters view same-sex marriage.

Loon was one of five Republicans in the Legislature to vote for a bill last year legalizing same-sex marriage. That made her the target of Kihne, who has said she won't push to repeal the same-sex marriage law if elected.

Late Tuesday, Loon said it's hard to know how the same-sex marriage issue played in the contest.

"Certainly it was made an issue in the campaign and from talking to some voters I know it was an issue for some voters," she said. "But I think people are smart and thoughtful when they look at which candidate to support. And I think my entire record for the past six years was a key component to my winning this primary election."

Kihne also criticized Loon for not working hard enough to cut government spending and also faulted her for not making a stronger push against the proposed Southwest light rail line that would run from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis.

But Loon talked to voters are her efforts to help small businesses and lessen the barriers that government places on them.

"We kept careful track of my contacts with the voters," she said. "I went door to door to probably 4,000 voters in 12 weeks time, and many of them more than once. So we kept pretty careful track of who was indicating support. We did our work well and I have an incredible team of volunteers to thank for that. They worked just as hard as I did for the past 12 weeks."

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