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Attorney Sarah Gad is officially launching a primary campaign against Ilhan Omar

Attorney Sarah Gad is kicking off a primary bid against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), pitching herself as a pragmatic alternative to the member of the progressive “squad” and leaning into her background.

“I think that one of the big things about my candidacy is my relatability to a lot of my constituents. I’ve lived through adversity that is very common in our district,” Gad said in an interview.

She emphasized an “evidence-based” approach to her policy positions and added: “I’m not going to be out there chanting ‘abolish the police.’”

Gad, who is Muslim, is also releasing a nearly-three minute launch video that shows her sitting in a jail cell as she describes her life story and non-traditional path to run for office.

Following a car accident a decade ago, she became addicted to opioids and ended up in jail. But after overcoming her addiction, Gad graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and became a defense attorney.

Gad indicated she’d draw some contrast with Omar’s outspoken criticism of the Israeli government. Referencing the boycott of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s speech by Omar and several other progressive lawmakers, Gad said a primary distinction between herself and Omar was “that I’m not going to shy away from difficult conversations. One thing that I frankly just don’t agree with is boycotting addresses and conversations just because you don’t agree with the sentiment.”

She said, though, she wasn’t going to try to seek the endorsement of or funding from AIPAC or other pro-Israel groups that have vowed to mount challenges to Omar and other progressives: “I’m not going to cozy up to AIPAC.”

One potential vulnerability for Gad in the primary is her recent relocation to the district after originally growing up in Minnesota. She mounted what she described was basically a protest campaign against Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) in 2020, losing by a lopsided margin. Gad explained she’d grown up in Minnesota and moved back after finishing law school. The 2020 bid, she said, was hard to even characterize “as a serious campaign,” but now she was ready to mount a “viable campaign.”

Outside groups like AIPAC have signaled they are willing to ramp up spending this cycle against progressive lawmakers like Omar who have been outspoken critics of the Israeli government. Omar and other progressives have been the subject of heavy criticism from the groups for their recent votes against Israel-related measures in the House amid the Israel-Hamas war.

Democratic leadership, however, has signaled it will protect progressive incumbents in line with longstanding practice. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and a slate of current and former House Democratic leaders endorsed Omar at the end of August in a show of force, and Jeffries has recently signaled the party is willing to put resources behind incumbents from the party’s left flank.

Gad won’t have the primary field to herself against Omar, who’s also facing a rematch with former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, who’d mounted a surprisingly close primary challenge last cycle. Omar had $646,475.87 cash on hand as of the most recent FEC filings.

But the two challengers might find a way to avoid cannibalizing each other’s votes. Gad said she and Samuels were meeting “on a fairly regular basis” and had promised each other that one would drop their bid if the other challenger’s seemed to be picking up more traction.

She was somewhat doubtful that Samuels might stick to the pledge, though: “Whether that will actually happen, who knows? Politicians are kind of notorious for not telling the truth.”

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