Two years ago, Ilhan Omar made headlines when she became the first Somali-American elected to a U.S. state legislature. She was chosen to represent Minneapolis, a city in the upper Midwestern state of Minnesota. Now, she is running for a seat in the U.S. Congress.
The opening for Omar — a Muslim, mother of three and former refugee — emerged Tuesday after U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison withdrew from his re-election campaign to enter the race for Minnesota attorney general. He filed the official paperwork just hours before the deadline.
Ellison, a liberal Democrat and the first Muslim elected to Congress, has represented the Minneapolis-based 5th Congressional District since early 2007. He said he was seeking the attorney general’s post to counter the Trump administration’s restrictive policies on Muslims and immigrants.
“It was attorney generals who led the fight against the Muslim ban,” Ellison said after filing to run for the office, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on travel to the United States by visitors from several Muslim-majority countries. “I want to be a part of that fight.”
After filing papers for her own candidacy Tuesday, Omar told reporters she looked forward to carrying on Ellison’s legacy “fighting for all of us — not only at the capital, but here, making sure every voice matters and every voice counts.”
Omar is among seven candidates competing in the Aug. 14 primary to represent the heavily Democratic district.
Flanked by dozens of supporters, she said she faced a hard fight for state office and was ready for another test.
“I have proven myself to be someone who shows up, takes on the hard fight and delivers, and I am ready to do that for the people of the 5th Congressional District and the people of our state,” she told reporters, including VOA.
Omar’s family fled from the Somali civil war and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya. She immigrated to the United States in 1995.
Ellison, a six-term lawmaker regarded as one of the most liberal members of Congress, was lured to the attorney general’s race after incumbent Lori Swanson jumped into the governor’s race Monday.
Ellison is in for a tough statewide fight. He will be challenged by the state party’s endorsed candidate, Matt Pelikan, and former Minnesota attorney general Mike Hatch.
This report originated in VOA’s Somali service. Mohamud Mascade contributed from Minneapolis.