U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose first year in Congress generated headlines across the world, launched her re-election bid Thursday night with a campaign slogan that evoked an attack made by her biggest political foe.
"Send her back to Congress!" is a riff on comments made by President Donald Trump last year that Omar and three other congresswomen of color should "go back" to their countries.
In front of more than 100 people at Aria event center in downtown Minneapolis, Omar embraced the fights to come as she billed herself as a representative who will get in the ring for her constituents and the progressive goals they want her to achieve.
"I'm in Congress fighting for the people who feel oppressed in our country and abroad," Omar said. "I know that there are people who are chanting, 'Send her back.' But I believe collectively that you are going to send me back to Congress."
Omar rose to unusual prominence in her first year in Congress, propelled by her passionate supporters as well as a deluge of criticism at home and nationally. She contended with levels of attention more befitting of a presidential candidate as she dealt with a string of personal and political controversies and a running feud with Trump.
Omar told supporters she would continue to fight for a more progressive America that guarantees housing and health care for all its citizens. And she dismissed critics who are uncomfortable with that vision or how she conducts herself as congresswoman: "Excuse me if I make you uncomfortable on behalf of my constituents who are tired of being uncomfortable."
The state Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment by late Thursday.
Not once in her remarks did she mention Trump. Nevertheless, her supporters touted her as a worthy adversary to the president.
"He attacks her because he's scared of her," said Attorney General Keith Ellison, who referred to Omar as a "living, walking, breathing example of anti-Trump."
James Rick, a 65-year-old construction project manager from Independence, Minn., applauded Omar for "standing up to Trump" and said he believes she takes too much heat from critics. "It doesn't seem right to attack her, even if she does slip up once in a while," Rick said.
Omar's first months in office were upturned by remarks she made that were widely interpreted as anti-Semitic. Leaders of Jewish-American groups bristled at such comments, including a suggestion of dual loyalty that they say has been used against Jews to marginalize them politically and socially.
Those comments have marred Omar's relationship with the local Jewish community, said Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Hunegs lives in Omar's district.
"There are significant issues of confidence between Rep. Omar and the Jewish community," he said.
In a brief interview after her re-election event, Omar did not directly address that criticism.
"I represent 708,000 people. There's always a need for more face time," Omar said. "I've spent my entire life in the United States having conversations with people who I might not agree with or they might not agree with me."
Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234