Primary results: Omar defeats challenger Melton-Meaux in 5th District

Shayna Stevermer, 23, poses for a photo with Rep. Ilhan Omar
Shayna Stevermer, 23, poses for a photo with Rep. Ilhan Omar on Tuesday in Minneapolis. Omar beat back a well-funded primary challenge from Antone Melton-Meaux in the DFL primary.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated: Aug. 12, 1:52 p.m.

Rep. Ilhan Omar beat back a well-funded primary challenge from Antone Melton-Meaux in Tuesday’s DFL primary.

Omar, the progressive “Squad” member seeking her second term in the Minneapolis-centered 5th District, jumped out to a big 57 percent to 39 percent lead in initial results, with more than 150,000 votes counted. Though potentially tens of thousands of absentee votes could still be counted over the next two days, Melton-Meaux conceded shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s my conclusion at this stage that Congresswoman Omar will be reelected,” Melton-Meaux said on MPR News. “I congratulate Congresswoman Omar on her victory.”

Omar declined to appear on MPR News Tuesday night, but in a statement said that “our movement didn’t just win. We earned a mandate for change.”

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Fischbach to take on Peterson in 7th District; 4 DFL incumbents likely to lose their seats

In other results, the DFL and Republican primaries for U.S. Senate were both called early for the favorites by the Associated Press. U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat, was easily renominated against a host of minor candidates, while ex-Rep. Jason Lewis won the GOP nomination against lesser-known rivals.

The 7th Congressional District in northwestern Minnesota saw former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach beat former nominee Dave Hughes in the Republican primary to take on DFL Rep. Collin Peterson in the fall.

Many state legislative districts also saw primaries, either for open seats or with challengers trying to unseat incumbents.

In Minneapolis, incumbent Senator Jeff Hayden lost a seat he’s been elected to multiple times. He says his defeat in a DFL primary is a sign people wanted an ideological voice over the progressive pragmatism he offered. He fell in the primary election to newcomer Omar Fateh — the son of Somali immigrants — who presented himself as more in touch with the grassroots and willing take on powerful interests at the Capitol.

Hayden says he accepts the defeat.

“I’m sad and a little disappointed. I can’t say I’m not disappointed. It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime to serve the people of this district. But I respect it. I respect their decision.”

Hayden has been in the Legislature since 2009, most of that in the state Senate. He’s been a member of DFL leadership for several years and is one of the most prominent Black legislators the state has seen.

The district covering south Minneapolis neighborhoods is considered safely in DFL hands so the winner of the primary was seen as the likely victor for the Senate seat.

Several longtime incumbent DFL legislators who had lost the party endorsement in digital conventions this spring were losing Tuesday, including Rep. Raymond Dehn of Minneapolis and Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth. Nine-term DFL Rep. John Lesch of St. Paul, who won the party’s backing, was trailing attorney Athena Hollins.

Jen McEwen speaks with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer
by MPR News Staff

The Associated Press called Simonson’s race in Senate District 7 in favor of his challenger, Jen McEwen. Simonson was trailing 73 percent to 27 percent with all votes counted except late-arriving absentee ballots. Dehn, who was down 47 percent to 42 percent to challenger Esther Agbaje, told Sahan Journal he believed absentee ballots were unlikely to change the result.

Record-setting absentee ballots cast

Tuesday’s election was the first big election in Minnesota since the COVID-19 pandemic upended normal ways of life, including how people voted. Though many voters still showed up to vote in-person Tuesday, hundreds of thousands cast absentee ballots — a record-setting total.

“We knew we were going to have an increased demand for voting through the mail when the pandemic hit … but I don't think anyone foresaw the tidal wave we have,” said Hennepin County elections manager Ginny Gelms.

More than 423,000 absentee ballots had been returned as of Monday — more than the 294,797 voters who voted in the primary four years ago. Another 425,000 or so absentee ballots have been requested but not yet returned.

State law says mail-in ballots can count as long as they were postmarked by Election Day and are received by Thursday. With potentially hundreds of thousands of votes still left to come in, final results may not be available until Friday, rather than on election night as is usually the case. But many races saw big enough leads Tuesday night that late-arriving absentee ballots seemed unlikely to change the results.

In-person voting mostly smooth

While record numbers of voters cast their ballots by mail, thousands still turned out to vote in person Tuesday, a process that seemed to go pretty smoothly in most places.

In-person voting mostly smooth
by Mark Zdechlik

Charles Beitlich voted at the community center in New Ulm Tuesday, where registration tables had plastic shields, the floor had stickers marking 6-foot distances, and hand sanitizer was abundant. He said the process was straightforward.

“I've always done in-person voting in the past. So I'd like to continue doing in-person voting,” Beitlich said. 

A person votes in a booth spaced out from others.
A person votes in the primary election inside the New Ulm Community Center on Tuesday. Multiple safety procedures were put in place for in-person voting to reduce spreading COVID-19.
Hannah Yang | MPR News

Angelica Dimock voted in Minneapolis, in part because she didn’t get around to sending in an absentee ballot, and in part because she’s a fan of the “I Voted” stickers voters get at polling stations.

“I like to be in person. So I figure if I come early, there's going to be less people and less disease,” Dimock said. 

Some voters reported issues with the absentee balloting process, such as Robert Cooper of Minneapolis, who filled out an absentee ballot application he received in the mail but never received a ballot. As he cast an in-person ballot at the Phillips Community Center Tuesday morning, Cooper worried his ballot request form might have been illegitimate. 

“I’m going to be more vigilant now,” Cooper said. “Make sure that if you get anything in the mail, that it's from the state that you live in, instead of somewhere you don’t know.”

Election judges helped facilitate the in-person voting at precincts around the state, including all the normal work of running an election, plus special precautions for COVID-19.

A sign tells people to stay 6 feet apart and to wear a face mask.
A sign outside of Bryn Mawr Elementary School in Precinct 7 advises voters about coronavirus-related precautions to take while voting in the primary election in Minneapolis.
Tom Baker for MPR News

“We all wear masks,” said Laurie Christianson, the head election judge in a precinct at Moorhead City Hall.

We have hand sanitizers, we’re cleaning spaces. We have pens for everybody, they can either take the pen with or we will put them in a discard bin. We aren’t reusing them.”

MPR News reporters Brian Bakst, Tim Nelson, Mark Zdechlik, Hannah Yang and Dan Gunderson contributed to this report.