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Ilhan Omar faces centrist rival; open House seat in Vermont

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FILE - Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 30, 2021. Omar faces a Democratic primary challenger who helped defeat a voter referendum to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety.(AP Photo/J.
FILE - Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 30, 2021. Omar faces a Democratic primary challenger who helped defeat a voter referendum to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the biggest stars of the left, is facing a centrist challenger in her Minnesota congressional primary on Tuesday, while Vermont Democrats will choose a nominee for an open House seat who will likely make history as the first woman representing the state in Congress.

Another key race is unfolding in western Wisconsin, where Democratic Rep. Ron Kind ‘s retirement after 26 years in office opens up a seat in a district that has been trending Republican. Among the candidates running in the Republican primary to replace Kind is a former Navy SEAL who attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, which preceded the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Minnesota is also holding a special election to fill the remaining months of Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn ‘s term after his death earlier this year from cancer. And voters will be picking nominees for a full term representing the largely rural, Republican-leaning district.

Some of the top elections:

OMAR FACES PRO-POLICE CHALLENGER

A supporter of the “defund the police” movement, Omar is facing a Democratic primary challenge in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District from a former Minneapolis City Council member who has made rising crime an issue in the race.

Don Samuels’ north Minneapolis base suffers from more violent crime than other parts of the city, and the moderate Democrat helped defeat a ballot question that sought to replace the city police department with a new public safety unit.

Omar has defended calls to redirect public safety funding more into community-based programs.

Samuels and others also successfully sued the city to force it to meet minimum police staffing levels called for in Minneapolis’ charter. Samuels says Omar, one of the leading voices in the national progressive movement, is divisive. He’s attracted big bucks to his campaign, though Omar as the incumbent has a significant cash advantage.

Omar, who crushed a similar primary challenge two years ago from a well-funded but lesser-known opponent than Samuels, has said she expects to win easily.

Two other members of the progressive Squad in Congress — Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri — won their Democratic primaries last week.

SPECIAL ELECTION AND PRIMARY ELECTION IN MINNESOTA

Voters in the 1st Congressional District in southern Minnesota will be weighing in on two races related to the seat.

In the special election, voters will choose between Republican Brad Finstad, who served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Trump administration, and Democrat Jeff Ettinger, a former chief executive at Hormel Foods. Both won a May 24 special primary election for Hagedorn’s seat, and Tuesday’s winner will serve until January.

Finstad and Ettinger are also running in their parties’ primaries for a full term in the district, which includes Rochester and Mankato. Ettinger faces mostly token opposition, but Finstad is expecting a strong challenge from state Rep. Jeremy Munson, whom he just narrowly defeated in the special election primary.

Munson has the support of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. He has said he doesn’t think President Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate, despite federal and state election officials, courts and Trump’s own attorney general saying there was no credible evidence the election was tainted.

WISCONSIN: REPLACING RON KIND

Republicans see a pickup opportunity in Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, the seat being vacated by Democratic incumbent Kind.

The district covers a swath of counties along Wisconsin’s western border with Minnesota and includes La Crosse and Eau Claire. Republican Derrick Van Orden is running unopposed in his primary Tuesday and has Trump’s endorsement.

Van Orden narrowly lost to Kind in the 2020 general election. He attended Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House but has said he never stepped foot on the grounds of the Capitol during the insurrection.

Four Democrats are competing to succeed Kind, including state Sen. Brad Pfaff, who previously worked for the retiring lawmaker and briefly served as state agriculture secretary. Pfaff has Kind’s endorsement.

The others are small-business owner Rebecca Cooke, retired CIA officer Deb McGrath and La Crosse City Council member Mark Neumann.

RARE VERMONT OPEN SENATE SEAT SPARKS HEATED HOUSE PRIMARY

The retirement of Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Senate’s longest-serving member, has opened the door for Vermont to elect its first-ever female member of the state’s congressional delegation.

Rep. Peter Welch, who currently holds Vermont’s lone House seat, is running to replace Leahy. The race to succeed Welch has largely centered around two Democratic women.

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, a centrist who is a former staffer for Welch and has been backed by Leahy and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, is squaring off against Becca Balint, the president pro tempore of the state Senate. Balint has endorsements from progressive leaders, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The winner immediately becomes the favorite in November’s general election — and could shape whether Vermont’s congressional politics going forward is dominated by Leahy’s largely centrist views or the progressive values more closely aligned with Sanders.

Associated Press writers Doug Glass in Minneapolis, Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis., and Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.

Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/appolitics.

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