ROCHESTER — Attorney General Keith Ellison won the DFL party’s endorsement for a second term on Saturday, a contest considered one of the toughest for the party on the statewide ticket this fall.
He took the stage as Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” rang out across the Mayo Clinic Civic Center arena, a provocative theme that Ellison followed up with a rallying cry of an acceptance speech. He was the only candidate and won a unanimous vote.
Ellison called the GOP “a party of greed, fear, and lies” and urged his supporters to travel to every corner of the state to fight for “justice and inclusion.”
“We have endured threat after threat to our basic dignity, but I tell you the DFL party was made for this moment,” Ellison said. “No one is outside of our compassion. We are here to fight for all.”
Ellison, 58, is a veteran of murderous political campaigns dating back to 2006, when he became the first Muslim elected to Congress. He responded to the prospect of being a target again with a shrug and a counterattack.
“They’re not going to be nice to me. They’re not going to be fair,” he said in an interview before the endorsement. “They’re not going to recognize me for the good work I do, so I’m not going to be sensitive to insults. I’m doing this job to help people. Why are they in this?”
In 2018, Ellison beat Republican Doug Wardlow by the smallest margin of any DFL on the statewide ticket, just 4 percentage points. Now his first re-election campaign for the job is in a midterm election with a Democrat in the White House, meaning the political winds favor Republicans.
The Republican plan of attack against Ellison is sharp. Endorsed candidate Jim Schultz calls Ellison a “radical” and blames him for the rise in violent crime.
The Attorney General’s first term took office in 2019 with the campaign theme of helping people “afford their lives and live with dignity and respect”.
His re-election campaign slogan is “everyone matters, everyone matters”. He calls himself “the people’s advocate” who seeks “to help the people of Minnesota provide for themselves and live with dignity, safety and respect.”
His message on Saturday: “We still have a lot of work to do to help people support themselves, to advocate for safety and security across the state.” He talked about holding crooks accountable and “supporting” county prosecutors.
During his first term, he oversaw high-level legal teams in the groundbreaking prosecutions of former police officers in the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright. But Ellison’s campaign did not highlight trials or public safety.
“We will talk about crime because everyone has the right to be safe,” he said, adding that his office will continue to take on the most serious cases when smaller counties need help. .
Ellison said the vast majority of his office’s work is focused on civil cases. In the office, his deputies each focus on one of four areas: consumer protection, state agencies, criminal and appellate cases, he noted.
Under Ellison, the attorney general’s office worked closely with Governor Tim Walz during the pandemic to craft executive orders and then successfully defended the executive orders against more than two dozen legal challenges.
Republican candidates, on the other hand, “share this simplistic idea that the attorney general’s office is a prosecuting agency,” Ellison said. “They like to badmouth me, but they don’t talk about what they’re going to do.”
The GOP candidates, he said, all “agree that women shouldn’t have the right to choose,” that the environment doesn’t need protection, and that the insurgents of the 6 January were heroes.
Ellison, a criminal defense attorney before serving in Congress, also said he was “emotionally shaken” by what happened in Buffalo, New York, where an 18-year-old white man is charged with a racist attack on black people, killing 10 people. in a supermarket.
He described the attack as a combination of the accused shooter being subjected to “horrific messages” combined with the “toxic availability” of firearms. Ellison said he wanted “to make people realize that political rhetoric can explode into violence” and promised that “hate speech will not go unanswered”.
In a sign, perhaps, of concern for his electoral vulnerability, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar singled out Ellison for a boost during her convention speech on Friday night. She praised his generosity, fairness and “moral clarity”.
“Not every state attorney general would have come forward after the murder of George Floyd, but he did,” she said.
The good news for Ellison’s campaign is that the Republican candidates have a primary battle. Although Wardlow lost Schultz’s endorsement a week ago, he said he plans to run in the GOP primary.
Former DFL party chairman Mike Erlandson said he thought the GOP battle would help Ellison.
“They will try to confront each other and go after public safety,” Erlandson said. “And it can allow the incumbent attorney general to have a platform to point out what may appear to be irrational public safety posts by Republicans running for that office.”
Latonya Reeves, a 43-year-old probation officer from Minneapolis, called Ellison’s work on the Chauvin case “a blessing” but said it made him a target. Unlike his Republican challengers, Reeves said, Ellison brings a rational voice to difficult conversations.
“We have to have someone with a clear mind,” she said. “Everyone is upset. Now where do we go from here?”
Bill Nienaber, a 49-year-old software developer from Andover, said Ellison should be able to appeal to a wide range of voters. He pledged to spend the coming months organizing to help the DFL connect with voters across the state.
“Racial justice issues are not urban issues,” Nienaber said. “These are American problems.”
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