Keith Ellison is well-versed in campaigning with political baggage.
The Minneapolis lawyer and politician climbed the Democratic political ranks, from the Minnesota Legislature to Congress and Democratic National Committee deputy chairman, while contending with controversies — from decades-old ties to the Nation of Islam to one-time public support for a federal fugitive. Now, as he mounts a bid for Minnesota attorney general, he is trying to move past an allegation of domestic abuse from a former girlfriend.
After a dip in public appearances, Ellison has resumed a busy campaign schedule. On Thursday, he held a St. Paul news conference to condemn legal efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, with several activists at his side. At a Labor Day picnic in Duluth, he vowed to stand up for unions. And in a State Fair visit he called for affordable student loans and medications.
“I spent my life trying to stand up for equal rights for people,” Ellison told the Star Tribune last week. “ … That’s what I’m going to do as Minnesota attorney general. I’m going to stand up to make sure everybody is treated with fairness, equality and dignity in this society.”
In his interview, Ellison again denied the allegation last month by ex-girlfriend Karen Monahan that he dragged her off a bed by her feet during a fight in 2016. As Republicans try to win an attorney general seat that Democrats have occupied for almost half a century, the party has been relentless in its criticism of Ellison — and of other DFL candidates who associate with him.
“His views are too radical and the controversies surrounding him will be a hindrance,” said Doug Wardlow, the GOP candidate for attorney general. Ellison’s campaign has hit back by pointing to Wardlow’s work as a lawyer for a legal foundation with ties to the Christian right, which has fought same-sex marriage and transgender rights.