ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A Minnesota candidate is the first Hmong Republican in the country to win a primary for a U.S. House seat.
May Lor Xiong won the GOP primary on Tuesday and this fall will challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum in Minnesota's Fourth Congressional District, which represents St. Paul and suburbs in Ramsey and Washington counties.
This is the first try at politics for the St. Paul school teacher, who said the riots following George Floyd's murder were an inflection point in her decision to run. At age 8, Xiong came to the United States as a refugee, and she said that experience shaped how she views public service.
"It has helped me be more appreciative of the freedom I have here," she said of her childhood.
Minnesota's Fourth Congressional District favors Democrats; McCollum handily won reelection in 2020 by more than 30 points and has represented the district for over two decades. Xiong acknowledged that barrier, but she believes the issues that are the focus of her campaign transcend party lines -- inflation, crime and education -- and that could help her in the general election fight.
She said her barrier-breaking candidacy is "huge" for Hmong representation in government.
"We held a lot of office in the local area but not at the federal or congressional level," she said. "We don't have anybody with my background in Washington, D.C., so to have, hopefully in November when I win this seat, that representation means a lot in the Hmong community and the minority community in our district."
Minnesota is home to more than 80,000 Hmong people, one of the largest populations in the country. Most of the Hmong population here is concentrated in Ramsey County, said Lee Pao Xiong, director for the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia University.
He added that Hmong community has always been politically active, and more are running for office.
"I think over the years the Hmong felt we need more representation at the seat of government and that's why you see a sizable number of candidates seeking public office," he said.
He noted that there could be even more Hmong representation in the Minnesota Legislature after a few candidates prevailed in their legislative primaries on Tuesday.
"This is an exciting time for the Hmong community," he said.
McCollum, whom May Lor Xiong will face in the general election, faced a DFL primary challenger but ultimately prevailed on Tuesday with 83 percent of the vote.
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