Omar makes history; 4 legislative incumbents bounced

Ilhan Omar-18
Ilhan Omar walks down the hall ecstatic about her victory over Phyllis Kahn and Mohamud Noor to the watch party for her campaign.

Four incumbent state lawmakers lost their jobs Tuesday as Minnesota primary voters narrowed the field of candidates for the general election in more than two dozen legislative races.

Longtime Minneapolis Democratic Reps. Phyllis Kahn and Joe Mullery lost their primaries, as did Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, and Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge.

Kahn not only lost her House District 60B primary, she came in third. Ilhan Omar was the top vote-getter in the three-way race. Kahn is a 22-term incumbent who was first elected to the House in 1972.

"Tonight we made history," Omar told her supporters following her win. If Omar wins in November, she will become the nation’s first Somali-American state lawmaker.

Photos: Omar and supporters celebrate

More on Omar's win

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Full coverage: Election 2016

Kahn said Omar out-organized her.

"You know, when I was elected in '72 it was a historic event," Khan said. "This is a new historic event. Obviously our district is the home of historic events."


In House District 59A, first-time candidate Fue Lee defeated Mullery, a 10-term incumbent. Lee said he made convincing case to voters to make a change.

“It’s seems like a lot of stuff that’s been going on, I think that everybody was ready for a change," Lee said. "So, just getting out there to talk to them just to see how they’re feeling and really getting to know them, that really matters a lot to this campaign.”

The two Republican incumbents had earlier lost party endorsement battles.

Cal Bahr of East Bethel, who defeated Hackbarth, said he knew a lot of voters wanted a new voice.

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“There were different reasons that they all cited," Bahr said. "For some of them it was things Mr. Hackbarth had said or done to them six years ago, and they had not forgotten. But they had nobody else to vote for. So, this is the first time he’s had a primary challenger in years.”

In Senate District 32, incumbent Nienow lost to Mark Koran of North Branch. Koran said he was excited by the results.

“It’s a rare occasion that you actually take out a three-term incumbent, and significantly," he said. "We knew the position that we believed the incumbent put us in and we forged ahead and ran a hard campaign the results showed it

Seven of the other challenged incumbents, including House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, won convincingly in primary contests.

As the state’s top elected Republican, Daudt faced unusually intense criticism in recent weeks from his primary opponent Alan Duff of Isanti and from outside groups. They attacked Daudt for not being conservative enough the past two years as speaker of the House.

Daudt thanked voters in a written statement and stressed that House Republicans have provided a check and balance on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Democrats.

In other House primary races, incumbent Rep. Sondra Erickson, R- Princeton, won, as did DFL rep. Debra Hilstrom of Brooklyn Center.

DFL State Rep. Rena Moran defeated primary challenger Rashad Turner, leader of Black Lives Matter St. Paul. Turner ran as a political outsider promising to "speak up for marginalized groups."

Moran, who campaigned on what she said was a record of uniting diverse groups, ended up with four times as many votes as Turner. She first won her seat in 2010, a decade after living in a Minneapolis homeless shelter.

There were primary contests in 14 House races, including two open seats.

House Minority leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, had mixed emotions about the primary results, which claimed two veterans of his caucus. But Thissen said he’s also pleased to have candidates with some “new energy” as he looks toward November.

“Sitting here today, I feel cautiously optimistic about where we’re going to be able to end up in terms of taking back the majority this fall,” he said.

There were primaries in 14 Senate races, including three open seats. The Senate incumbents that scored primary victories were DFLers Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis, Jeff Hayden of Minneapolis and Vicki Jensen of Owatonna.

There was only one statewide contest on the primary ballot. Voters narrowed the field for a Minnesota Supreme Court seat from three candidates to two. Associate Justice Natalie Hudson, whom Dayton appointed a year ago, and attorney Michelle MacDonald will move on to the general election in the nonpartisan race. Third-place finisher Craig Foss was eliminated.

Overall, turnout was very light on primary day, with unofficial estimates showing only about 7 percent of eligible voters taking part, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said Wednesday.

The numbers reflect the absence of a partisan statewide race, "but the August date is not serving us well," Simon said on Twitter. "We can do better on primary election turnout."

MPR News' Mark Zdechlik contributed to this report.