There are two kinds of “what ifs” in politics --- those which speculate
about events which have already taken place, and those which
speculate about future events.
I rarely take much interest in the former because they are primarily
just intellectual games, but on the other hand, I find the latter much
more interesting because, while speculative, they sometimes actually
There are many battlegrounds in the upcoming 2020 election cycle,
and more general interest exists probably in the presidential and
U.S. senate elections. Democrats took control of the U.S. house in 2018,
and are likely to keep control of that body next year, albeit they will
need to defend several 2018 winners in competitive districts.
One district Democrats need not fear losing is Minnesota’s 5th
District which includes the city of Minneapolis and one of its largest
liberal suburbs. The district is reliably Democratic (the party in this
state is called Democratic-Farmer-Labor or DFL) which consistently
receive about 75% of the vote. Republicans and independents usually
receive about 25%.
MN-5’s current member of Congress is Ilhan Omar, a young Somali-
American first elected in 2018, and who has become well-known
nationally for many of her controversial views on both domestic and
foreign policy. I think it is fair to say that a clear majority of 5th
district voters agree with her on most of her domestic views (as is the
case in liberal cities across the nation), but some of her foreign policy
views and community identity views have not only aroused strong
opposition among local GOP and independent voters, but among many
DFL voters in various religious communities who do not share her
opinions about the Middle East and other international hotspots.
Congresswoman Omar has presented the DFL leadership with an
ongoing problem. Her own seat is presumably safe, but she has
become a lightning rod in the rest of the state where her views are
often perceived as radical or extremist. Even among the two new
DFL congressional incumbents in neighboring suburban districts
(MN-2 and MN-3) there is reluctance to challenge her controversial
statements publicly --- for fear of backlash.
Obviously, no Republican or no independent could defeat her in
2020. Although there is much talk of challenging her in the DFL
primary, no serious challenger has so far been willing to go against
her and the DFL state party which backs her.
But there is one DFL figure who lives in the district, and does not
owe anything to the DFL establishment --- which abandoned him in
That is former Senator Al Franken who many feel was “thrown
under the bus” in 2017 over controversies not considered sufficient
to force him to resign.
Franken is known to wish to restore his political reputation and
make a comeback. His problem with that quest is that there are no
current or foreseeable openings in Minnesota at the U.S. senate or
But what if Al Franken decided to challenge Ilhan Omar in the
2020 DFL primary?
I think the answer is that Franken would win. Local Republicans
I have talked to, while disagreeing with Franken’s domestic views,
have told me that they would vote for him, and even go into the
DFL primary to do so. Many DFLers in the religious community
would also do so, as would the many other DFL voters who have
become embarrassed by Rep. Omar’s chronic public controversies.
Franken remains popular among many 5th District DFLers, many
of whom feel he was unfairly pushed out of office.
What makes it attractive for Franken to run is that winning would
redeem him from his 2017 debacle. If he won, he would also likely
be in the majority, would receive important committee assignments,
and although a first-termer in 2021, would be a celebrity figure in the
U.S. house. Also, by returning to public service, he could take his time
to run for higher office should a vacancy occur.
I have no evidence that Al Franken is considering this race, but
rumors about it were circulating at a political event I recently
Although they would be rid of Ilhan Omar if Franken won,
Republicans would lose a controversial target that helps them
statewide --- the prospects are thus complicated for the GOP.
So it’s just a ”what if” --- but a fascinating one, among many others,
in the momentous national elections coming relatively soon.
Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reservd.