MINNEAPOLIS -- U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar sparred Friday with Democratic rival Antone Melton-Meaux over who is best positioned to deliver progressive policy wins in an overwhelmingly liberal district that includes Minneapolis, now at the center of national debate over police and race issues.
In a wide-ranging, hourlong debate on WCCO radio, Omar and Melton-Meaux were both put on the defensive about their massive fundraising hauls from donors outside the district in a nationally watched primary Aug. 11 that has attracted millions of dollars on each side.
Also in the mix was John Mason, another Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate, who has run a quiet campaign. But the encounter was the first, and possibly the last, direct exchange between Omar and Melton-Meaux, a political newcomer charging that the incumbent's turbulent two years in Congress have not served the district well.
"We don't need more dividers," Melton-Meaux said. "We need more uniters."
Omar lamented that so much of the contest has focused on "personalities." She portrayed herself as a progressive voice for the district, which has been in DFL hands for decades. "What I do every day is listen to you and turn that into legislation," she said.
Omar also cited her endorsement Friday by DFL Gov. Tim Walz, citing it as an example of her strong support from community leaders in Minnesota.
Omar, elected in 2018 with 78% of the vote, is an ally of powerful progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has championed ambitious proposals such as "Medicare for All," the Green New Deal and eliminating rent and student loan debt.
"I have done the work of building coalitions in the district, in Congress, to try to make sure that we have our voices implemented in every single piece of legislation that's introduced," Omar said.
While Melton-Meaux differed little with Omar on specific policy points, he said she takes an unrealistic approach that guarantees little actual progress. As an example he cited her "Homes for All" proposal meant to end homelessness.
"That has a trillion-dollar price tag, no funding mechanism, only six co-sponsors, no Senate companion," Melton-Meaux said. "That's not a progressive agenda, that's just a platitude."