What to Watch in Tuesday’s Primaries: Ilhan Omar and Georgia’s QAnon Candidate

What to Watch in Tuesday’s Primaries: Ilhan Omar and Georgia’s QAnon Candidate


Six states hold primaries and runoffs on Tuesday, but the spotlight will be on Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota. In her primary race for re-election on Tuesday, she hopes to continue a string of victories by progressive candidates nationwide, but she faces a well-financed challenge from Antone Melton-Meaux, a lawyer who has raised more than $4 million.

In Georgia, a Republican QAnon supporter has a good chance of winning her party’s nomination in the 14th Congressional District. But the attention in Georgia will be on the election system there as much as on the candidates; ditto Wisconsin, which also votes on Tuesday. These two battleground states struggled to hold earlier primary elections amid the coronavirus pandemic; though Tuesday’s elections will probably be lower turnout, any test of the voting apparatus in Wisconsin and in Georgia will be closely monitored.

Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time in Minnesota; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern time in Georgia; and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time in Wisconsin.

It was long thought that Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, was the only member of the so-called squad who would face a difficult re-election. But by the time Ms. Tlaib cruised to victory last week, Ms. Omar’s challenge might have eclipsed Ms. Tlaib’s. That’s because Ms. Omar is facing a well-funded opponent.

Ms. Omar, an unabashed progressive who has at times run afoul of some party leaders, got the support of House Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her re-election efforts. Her opponent, Mr. Melton-Meaux, has tried to cast her as a national lightning rod too controversial for the district, however.

Mr. Melton-Meaux, who has secured more than $4 million for his campaign, nearly matched Ms. Omar over all and outraised her in the most recent cycle, sending alarm bells that the race could be closer than expected.

The race has also been upended by the killing of George Floyd, the Black man whose death in the custody of the Minneapolis police ignited protests across the country. Ms. Omar has been a leading voice in advocating systemic changes such as restructuring the police department, while her opponents have focused efforts on more incremental reforms.

More than a referendum on Ms. Omar, the election could signal the electorate’s embrace of a path forward after a tumultuous summer.

Ms. Omar’s re-election is one of the final down-ballot contests that will decide the overall success or failure of progressives in 2020. Progressive groups like Justice Democrats and Sunrise Movement rebounded from the heartbreak of Senator Bernie Sanders’s defeat in the presidential primary and secured key wins in races in New York, Illinois and Missouri.

Last week, when Cori Bush defeated the House Democrat William Lacy Clay and Ms. Tlaib won re-election on the same day, many on the left said a tumultuous year that began with a raging pandemic was finally turning into a good one. For that to remain true for the left, Ms. Omar would need to be sent back to Congress.

Beyond beating incumbents, progressives are seeking to show they can deliver for constituents, and winning a second term bolsters the argument that pushing back against challenges to Democratic norms coming from the White House is popular at home.

If she loses, it will be a win for a rare alliance: center-left Democrats and right wingers who love President Trump. Together, their mutual dislike of Ms. Omar has fueled donations for her challenger, and placed pressure on her in a tough primary in a deep-blue district. Her critics point to a record of controversy including the charges of anti-Semitism she has faced, and for which she has apologized. It is up to her district if they agree.

Ms. Omar is one of the few Muslim voices in Congress, and groups on the left believe that her representation has changed the scope of international debates. While both Ms. Omar and Mr. Melton-Meaux refer to themselves as progressives, one dividing line between them is their stance on Israel. Ms. Omar supports an effort to divest from Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, while Mr. Melton-Meaux has the backing of several pro-Israel groups.

Should Ms. Omar prevail, it would mean a clean sweep of victories for the squad, the group of four progressive Congresswomen of color who have been at the vanguard of the Democratic Party, helping to push it leftward.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the best-known member of the group, cruised to a dominant primary victory in June. Representative Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts is unopposed. And last week, Ms. Tlaib easily dispatched an opponent she had edged out two years ago.

While members of the squad initially clashed with centrists and Ms. Pelosi, they have more recently found ways to build their strength within the ranks of the party.

Ms. Omar has raised more than $4 million for her re-election effort. And Ms. Pelosi endorsed her last month, calling her a “valued and important member of our caucus.”

The Republican Party is going to find out just how big a QAnon problem it has on Tuesday when a primary runoff is decided in a backwater district of Georgia.

The favorite in the race in the state’s 14th Congressional District is Marjorie Taylor Greene, a gun-rights activist who is an unabashed supporter of QAnon, a fringe group that has been pushing a convoluted pro-Trump conspiracy theory. Lined up against her is John Cowan, a physician who is no less conservative or pro-Trump, but who does not believe QAnon’s theory that there is a “deep state” of child-molesting Satanist traitors plotting against the president. The winner is a near lock to be elected to Congress in the overwhelmingly Republican district.

The F.B.I. has labeled QAnon a potential domestic terrorism threat and the conspiracy theory has already inspired real-world violence. Yet its supporters are slowly becoming a political force with more than a dozen candidates, who have expressed some degree of support for the theory, running for Congress as Republicans.

Most of them are expected to lose. Yet they all present a fresh headache for Republican leaders.

The party, while already struggling to distance itself from conspiracy theories steeped in racist and anti-Semitic messaging, also cannot afford to turn off voters who share those conspiratorial views if it hopes to retain the Senate and retake the House.

A victory for Ms. Greene is going to make that balancing act far harder. She has been caught in Facebook videos making a series of offensive remarks about Black people, Jews and Muslims. And unlike some other QAnon-linked candidates, she has made no effort to soft-pedal her support for the conspiracy theory. She recently called it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out.”

Yet she nonetheless won 40 percent of the vote in the district’s Republican primary in June. Mr. Cowan won 21 percent, and the remainder of the votes were split between seven other candidates.

In Wisconsin, which was the first state to hold a large, statewide election as the number of coronavirus cases was surging in the U.S. in early April, the virus is still nearing peak levels but the elections apparatus appears to be on more solid footing. One of the central causes of the long, mask-clad lines in Milwaukee in April was a drastic shortage of poll workers, which led to the city consolidating its polling locations to five from 180.

On Tuesday, about 170 voting sites will be open in Milwaukee, or roughly 95 percent of the regular sites. The state also activated the National Guard, which will be dressed in plain clothes, to be on standby should there be any emergency shortages on Tuesday.

Though the complaints of missing or late arriving absentee ballots in Wisconsin are fewer this year, the Wisconsin Election Commission still had about 9,000 absentee ballot requests to fulfill as of Friday, and the return rate of ballots was still somewhat low. Officials are also wondering whether the state will be able to count all of the absentee ballots in time for reporting results by Tuesday night.

In Georgia, where about 60 percent of the state’s counties are holding elections, the turnout isn’t expected to reach levels where long lines would be a problem like during the primary. The state’s most populous county — Fulton — also opened an early voting location at State Farm Arena to help alleviate Election Day surges.

The absentee ballot deadlines, which required a ballot to arrive by close of business on Friday, remain unchanged from the primary election in June.



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