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Omar challenger motivated by 9/11 comments

Updated: July 25, 2019 07:08 PM

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has become a lightning rod for controversy in her less than two years representing Minnesota's 5th Congressional District. Now, she's beginning to attract challengers for the 2020 election.

"I think there are a lot of disaffected moderate Democrats out there and Republicans who are not happy with their parties and who may, if we do a good campaign, may take a look at us," Independence Party candidate Chris Kelley told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Thursday. Kelley will officially launch his campaign for the Independence Party endorsement on Monday.

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Kelley said he was first motivated to run for Omar's seat after comments she made in April at a meeting of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) when he said she seemed to dismiss the 9/11 terrorist attack.

"CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized some people did something ..." Omar said in part at the meeting in California, sparking a backlash about whether she was diminishing what happened that day.

"It was kind of a slap in the face to me as a first responder," said Kelley, a 20-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department. Kelley is also an Army veteran who served in the Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991 and twice during the Iraq War in 2004 and 2009.

"9/11 was the Pearl Harbor of our time, my generation, and to kind of dismissively talk about it in that way was one of the motivating factors," Kelley said of his decision to run.

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Kelley briefly sought Republican endorsement for a state Senate seat in 2016.

He said he opposes Omar's proposals for free college tuition at public universities and colleges and "Medicare for all" health care. Kelley said both would cause the budget deficit to skyrocket.

Kelley said he won't actively seek support from President Trump, but wouldn't reject it either.

Carleton College political analyst Steven Schier said the 5th District is the state's most heavily Democratic district in the state, noting Omar won with 78 percent of the vote in 2018.

"Can a well-funded candidate who is not a Republican win that district against Omar? There is some chance of that but it would be remarkable if it happened," Schier said.

Kelley said Omar's well-publicized issues regarding her marriages and federal tax issues could make her vulnerable and are fair game in the campaign.

"She can set the record straight," he said. "Nobody else can."

At least one Republican challenger is also expected to launch a campaign for Omar's seat next week.

We emailed Congresswoman Omar's campaign for comment, but haven't yet received a response.

Editor's note: Omar's full quote at the CAIR event in April was: "CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties."

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Tom Hauser

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