Last night I attended the forum of DFL Fifth District congressional candidates at Temple Beth El in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The forum was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and a variety of left-wing outfits with “Jewish” in their name although leftism is their religion (e.g., the National Council of Jewish Women). Maya Rao covered the forum for the Star Tribune in “DFLers tout experience at heavily attended Fifth District forum.” I sat next to KSTP’s Beth McDonough, who covered the event from the scene in the hit embedded below. KSTP has posted the video and a brief story here.
My friend Steve Hunegs is executive director of the JCRC. Steve has taken some heat from Republican sources for hosting this event. The winner of the primary will go on to win the election and represent the Fifth District for as long as she wants. It was important for these voters to see the candidates and hear them out themselves. I think the JCRC performed a service helping organize and put on this event. It was a first-class operation and informative event. All involved with putting it on have a right to be proud. I offer only a few observations for interested readers.
• The event was attended like a high holiday service. There must have been 1,000 people in the audience. The large sanctuary was filled to capacity. The space behind the regular sanctuary was opened and two-thirds filled. The place was packed. I wrote a friend that it was packed like Rosh Hashanah. He wrote me back: “The Rosh Hashanah service will never be that packed.”
• I sat with the media near the entrance to the sanctuary and saw many friends and acquaintances in attendance. My vague impression was that the audience was no more than one-third Jewish Democrats. The rest seemed to me much like the Fifth District DFL activists whom I saw at the special endorsing convention in south Minneapolis on June 17.
• This is the race to succeed former Nation of Islam hustler Keith Ellison in Congress. Ellison declared his candidacy for Minnesota Attorney General in such a manner as to ease the path for the the party to endorse state representative Ilhan Omar at the special endorsing convention. With the set-up for Omar, Margaret Anderson Kelliher — Omar’s most formidable opponent — skipped the convention. I wrote up my analysis of the race the day after the convention in the Weekly Standard article “The anti-Israel seat” and went back for a second look in the City Journal column “A question for Democrats.”
• I think attendance last night was driven by the anti-Trump fervor that is roiling Democrats across the United States. The serious candidates all played to it incessantly.
• Mary Lahammer of the Twin Cities PBS station moderated the debate and cracked the whip to keep the candidates’ answers to her questions brief and to the point. Only two of the seven questions she asked bore on Jewish issues.
• Ilhan Omar is the endorsed DFL candidate in this race. She is the favorite to win the primary next Tuesday.
• The other serious contenders in the race are state senator Patricia Torres Ray and Margaret Anderson Kelliher. I liked both Senator Ray and Ms. Kelliher, but Ray pales by contrast to Kelliher. Indeed, by contrast, Omar came off poorly. Kelliher served in the state legislature for 12 years, four of them as Speaker of the House and the nemesis of Governor Tim Pawlenty. She is a formidable candidate and a total pro. In my judgment and that of everyone I spoke with, Kelliher won the event last night going away.
• The laziness and stupidity of the press covering (and not covering) the race are a great advantage to Omar. She is a problematic candidate and vacuous leftist who draws on a bottomless well of political cliches to express the animus that drives the left on every issue. By contrast with Kelliher, Omar’s vacuity was prominently on display last night.
• There was no substantial difference on the issues among the three serious candidates. Rao’s Star Tribune article rightly focuses on the question of experience for the position, on which one could see daylight between and among the candidates. On Israel, all three expressed support for the right of Israel to exist, support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs and opposition to the anti-Israel divestment movement.
• I hung around after the event. As Omar shook hands and chatted with supporters in front of the media table at which I sat, I moved around to snap the photo on the right. I snapped the photo just before I introduced myself to her. She kept smiling as she told me, “You made me famous. I wanted to send you flowers.” I said I thought MSNBC deserved the credit.