Some Omar supporters shrug off latest controversy

Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., discusses food insecurity with community leaders at North Market in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Ilhan Omar is one of the most liberal members of Congress, but for some people in her 5th District she isn’t far enough to the left.

“The attacks on Ilhan Omar are despicable,” said Sandi Sherman, 69, who lives in St. Anthony Village.

When asked about Omar at the Minnesota State Fair this week, Sherman said she generally votes for socialist politicians and did not cast a ballot for Omar last fall.

Omar won her race for Congress with 78 percent of the vote in 2018. An informal sampling of some voters found Omar is not losing support.

“This has nothing to do with real politics, personal attacks, delving into people’s personal lives,” Sherman said. “If you have disagreements with someone’s politics then let’s discuss and debate those issues and leave aside personal attacks.”

Omar has not addressed the allegations contained in a sworn affidavit filed this week in Washington, D.C. Superior Court by Beth Mynett, who claims her husband Timothy was romantically involved with Omar and that the relationship broke up her marriage.

A conservative political group filed a complaint with federal campaign officials alleging that Omar used campaign funds to cover expenses for Timothy Mynett, whose firm did work for Omar’s campaign.

Conservative critics have previously accused Omar of attacking Israel, of improperly filing taxes, and of marrying her brother in an immigration scheme. Omar has called that false.

Many fairgoers on Thursday were unaware of the alleged affair. Erin Anderson said she voted for Omar and likes her position on environmental issues. She thinks all politicians are under attack from critics but believes Omar is targeted more than most others.

“I think it has to do with her ethnicity and religious background that she has and the fact that she’s different,” Anderson said, “but also the fact that she’s doing a good job of speaking up for the things she believes in and, I think, the people in Minneapolis are caring about.”

Dan Baumann also said he voted for Omar and called her “great.” He hadn’t heard the allegations either and said he was inclined not to believe them.

Baumann said he expected Omar to attract a lot of attention in Congress and he thinks she's used her position to support causes he agrees with, like a $15 national minimum wage.

“I kind of want her to push some issues forward. I want her to take a stand,” he said.

The latest allegations concerning Omar came the same week she revealed a death threat against her. The FBI said it and other law enforcement agencies are looking into the threat.

Doug McCaustland voted for Omar and said he worries about her safety. He also said he thinks Omar's critics misrepresent her positions, such as her concerns about the Israeli government’s influence in U.S. politics and its treatment of Palestinians.

“Sometimes I wish she would tone down and sometimes I don’t,” he said. “She’s given attention and light needs to be shed on a lot of these issues.”

Hamline University political science professor David Schultz said absent proof of criminal violations, Omar is on firm ground in one of the nation’s strongest Democratic congressional districts.

“She is the anti-Trump. If you think about it, Donald Trump has made her the focus of his campaign, not just in Minnesota but she is part of the ‘squad,’ those four freshmen or four first-year members of Congress that he’s attacking,” Schultz said. “I think the more he attacks her the more popular she becomes.”

But the Republican strategy is not aimed solely at Omar’s district. Republicans plan to talk a lot about Omar and the "squad" in other 2020 campaigns.

As he announced a campaign for the United States Senate last week, former Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis signaled he would counter complaints about his support for Trump by targeting Omar and the other first-term women members of Congress as he runs against Sen. Tina Smith.

"Let me put it to you this way. President Trump was on the ticket for Democrats in 2018 but the squad the squad wasn't on the ticket for Republicans,” Lewis said. “Today they are, and that has changed a lot of things."

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