Minnesota primary preview: Races to watch

State Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, left, and state Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, both lost their endorsement races Thursday to challengers, Omar Fateh and Esther Agbaje.

Minnesota voters have a big choice to make in November, but first the unsettled political moment means both parties are undergoing identity crises, evidenced by the hotly contested primary election Tuesday. 

Voters will often choose between old and new, establishment and anti- and ideologue and pragmatist. Given the health concerns of voting during a pandemic and without marquee statewide matchups like the 2018 governor’s race, turnout is expected to be modest.  

Here are key primary races to watch this season:

U.S. Congress

The marquee matchup attracting national attention is in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, as U.S. Rep. lhan Omar faces Antone Melton-Meaux her first reelection. Read in-depth Reformer coverage here. Both have raised bundles of cash and are spending it attacking one another. In this race, Omar is considered farther left of center, but her first-term struggles have drawn a strong challenger in Melton-Meaux. This is a safe seat for the DFL victor.

Left: Antone Melton-Meaux at a campaign rally in Minneapolis ahead of Tuesday’s DFL primary. Photo by Will Jacott/Minnesota Reformer. Right: Rep. Ilhan Omar
speaks at a campaign event for then-presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images.

In Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, five Republicans are hoping to unseat Democrat U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, including former lieutenant governor and state Sen. Michelle Fischbach, a strong Trump backer.

Five Republicans are hoping to unseat Democrat U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson. Photo: Collin Peterson

Fischbach faces retired Air Force Maj. Dave Hughes and Albany physician Noel Collis, both of whom criticize Fischbach as being a “career politician.” Collis has made waves with an amusing ad campaign

President Donald Trump won the district by nearly 31 points in 2016, and this is expected to be the Republicans’ best shot at beating Peterson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. Republican insiders hope Fischbach’s experience and fundraising will make her a tough challenger to Peterson should she prevail. 

Minnesota House and Senate

Three separate DFL stalwarts face stiff challenges. Each lost their convention endorsement races, and they are now running in the primary to retain their seats. 

Omar Fateh, who is active in Minnesota progressive circles and has worked for the state, won the DFL endorsement over Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Jeff Hayden in District 62. Fateh’s campaign reported he won more than 72% of the delegate vote in online balloting.

Hayden was a strong advocate for police reforms after the death of George Floyd, just blocks from where he lives in south Minneapolis.

State Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, also faces a strong primary challenge after losing the party endorsement to attorney Jen McEwen, who is running as a robust progressive while Simonson has long touted moderate bona fides. 

In another DFL contest, attorney Esther Agbaje similarly won the DFL endorsement over state Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, a fourth-term state representative and one-time candidate for Minneapolis mayor.

State Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, became the new Senate minority leader, beating state Sen. Tom Bakk in a caucus vote.

Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers also inspired a wave of Black women to file for office, including a challenger to the first woman to lead the Senate DFL caucus, Susan Kent. 

Kent, of Woodbury, became caucus leader earlier this year. Marquita Stephens, an active community resident, is challenging Kent. The winner will face off against former Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens in what Republicans hope will be a shot at a pickup.  

Leading DFL lawmakers aren’t the only ones with primary challengers. Republican leaders also face challengers, though just one seems to have an active campaign. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka will face Richard Dahl, a local attorney who charges that state government’s most powerful Republican has been too soft on DFL Gov. Tim Walz.  

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.