Two Democrats poised to become the first Muslim women in Congress

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Emilie Richardson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar speaks during the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party endorsement convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 17, 2018. 

Two Democrats are poised to become the first Muslim women in Congress, offering a sharp counterpoint to the anti-Muslim policies and sentiment surfacing in Washington and across the country.

Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota state lawmaker and Somali-American former refugee, is set to take a seat in Congress after winning her Democratic primary in a left-leaning Minnesota District on Tuesday. And in Michigan last week, Palestinian American Rashida Tlaib won her Detroit-area primary and runs unopposed in November.

In a year when a record number of women are running for Congress and races across the country include gay, lesbian and transgender candidates, Omar and Tlaib represent a new addition to the diversity of this election cycle.

Omar attracted national attention after becoming the first Somali-American elected to Minnesota state legislature, unseating a 22-term Democratic incumbent. For her primary run, she received support from left-leaning groups and an endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

If she wins in November, she will fill current Rep. and fellow Muslim Keith Ellison’s seat. Ellison decided to run for Minnesota attorney general and won his primary, despite an allegation of domestic abuse arising late in the campaign, an accusation which he denies.

Tlaib also supported Omar’s run, sending a dozen of her campaign workers to Minnesota to canvas for Omar the weekend before the election.

“I can’t wait to walk onto the floor of United States Congress hand in hand with you. So incredibly proud of you,” Tlaib said of Omar on Twitter.

Born in Somalia, Omar spent four years of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to the U.S. Her District encompasses Minneapolis and surrounding suburban area, home to the largest Somali community in the country.

Trump has targeted Omar’s District, warning that Somali migrants are a “disaster” for Minnesota. Omar and Tlaib have both vehemently opposed the president’s travel ban to several Muslim-majority countries, and in 2016 Tlaib famously heckled Trump during his speech in Detroit.

“When you see a Palestinian person with your name and faith succeed, it shows [the government] can ban us from coming into the country, but not from getting elected,” Tlaib told ABC News last week. “Showing people it can be done would be a victory to my family.”


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