On Tuesday, 42-year incumbent Rep. Phyllis Kahn bested Mohamud Noor in a contentious race to represent the University of Minnesota’s area in the state’s House of Representatives. She earned nearly 55 percent of the vote.
“I expected to win,” Kahn said. “I wouldn’t have run if I didn’t expect to win.”
In House District 60B, where nearly a quarter of the residents are Somali, Noor supporters made a heavy mark on the election. His campaign presented Kahn with one of the toughest challenges of her legislative career since it began in 1972.
“I think this race opens up the door [for Somali candidates],” he said. “It creates hope for many, saying that, ‘yes, we can do it.'”
More than 100 people gathered outside Noor’s campaign headquarters in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood after the polls closed on Tuesday, many of them singing and dancing. They swarmed Noor when he made his way to a nearby park to speak.
But some supporters in the crowd started flashing disappointed looks at their smartphones around 9 p.m., when results came in. It took just a few minutes for the news to reach Noor, who soon conceded.
“Tonight has been an incredible night for the democratic process,” Noor said during his speech in Currie Park.
Noor is the executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota and a city school board member. He said he will spend the days following the primary election trying to return some normalcy to his life.
Both Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates ran without securing their party’s endorsement and have faced allegations of voter fraud, a neighborhood caucus that ended in chaos and other claims while campaigning.
Although the race was tight, Kahn said the results weren’t surprising.
“We did show that this is a diverse district, this is a district that has many interestes, and this district has chosen me to be the best person to represent them,” Kahn told a group of about 80 supporters in her victory speech at a Minneapolis bar.
Noor said Kahn has done a lot of work for the district, adding that he plans to help with the 21-term incumbent’s campaign to ensure her win in November’s general election. He said he believes his run convinced Kahn to focus on early childhood education and poverty, two of his main issues.
“I think she got the message,” Noor said.
Kahn said she’s done an admirable job representing the district’s Somali community, adding that support from Somali-American Ward 6 City Councilman Abdi Warsame helped her rally support.
“It’s been very clear that Kahn is the choice for 60B,” said Mohamed Jama, a Cedar-Riverside resident and active supporter. “She represents everyone — Somalis, seniors and students.”
Jeremy Reichenberger, a recent University graduate and Marcy-Holmes resident, said in the past, he helped with a campaign against Kahn because he didn’t think she was meeting the needs of students and young people in the district.
But since then, Kahn has worked hard to change that, he said.
“I think we’ve definitely seen her step up her game … ,” Reichenberger said.
Colie Colburn, a Kahn campaign manager, said the win is evidence of Kahn’s willingness to listen to constituents.
Kahn said she went door-knocking and called residents nearly every day in the weeks leading to Tuesday’s election.
The Noor campaign relied heavily on early voting, sometimes busing more than 100 people to Minneapolis City Hall in a single day so they could cast ballots for Noor, said Chloe Ahlf, his campaign’s fundraising director.
Republican candidate Abdimalik Askar secured his party’s support on Tuesday, earning over 81 percent of the vote. He is the first Somali-American to earn the state’s GOP endorsement.
Phill Kelly, a recent University graduate and the community liaison for Kahn’s campaign, said he drove about 15 elderly women to the polls Tuesday morning.
“My mind’s already focusing on how the community [is] going to move on together,” he said, adding that it will be important for students to vote in November’s election.