U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison won the DFL primary for Minnesota attorney general Tuesday and will face Republican Doug Wardlow in the November election.
Five Democrats were competing to be their party’s pick in the primary, which came days after an allegation of domestic violence emerged against Ellison. He has denied his ex-girlfriend’s claim, and went on to a decisive victory.
“We had a very unexpected event at the end of this campaign that happened,” Ellison told supporters at Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis. “I want to assure you that it is not true and we are going to keep on fighting all the way.”
Meanwhile, GOP-endorsed candidate Wardlow scored a primary win and will continue his bid to become the first Republican to hold the attorney general’s office in 47 years. He celebrated his win in Hermantown and plans to continue campaigning Up North over the next couple days. Wardlow said if elected, he will be “standing up for the rule of law in Minnesota.”
“It’s a matchup that provides a clear contrast for the people of Minnesota,” Wardlow said of the race against Ellison, whom he called too extreme.
Wardlow is a former one-term state representative from Eagan who has been an attorney at the conservative Christian nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom for the past several years. He faced two challengers in the Republican primary, perennial candidate Sharon Anderson — who received about a third of the votes — and longtime DFL state Rep. Bob Lessard.
The Democrats had a short but fiercely contested primary race. Attorney General Lori Swanson announced in June she would run for governor instead of seeking re-election, leaving two months for candidates to distinguish themselves. Ellison was competing with state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley, former state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman and Minneapolis attorney and DFL endorsee Matt Pelikan.
The election of Minnesota’s next chief legal officer landed in the spotlight with Ellison in the race and an increased focus by Democrats on using the office to challenge President Donald Trump.
Ellison has been one of the most outspoken candidates on fighting Trump administration policies. He has represented Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District, which includes Minneapolis and some western suburbs, for 12 years and previously served in the Legislature. He is deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee and was the first Muslim member of Congress.
In his victory speech, Ellison said he left a safe seat in Congress to run for attorney general because the office can accomplish a lot for many people quickly. He promised to fight wage theft, make sure people can afford medication and stand up for consumers and the environment.
Some voters said Tuesday their confidence in him was shaken by the domestic violence allegation that emerged over the weekend. The son of Karen Monahan, Ellison’s ex-girlfriend, said he saw a video of Ellison dragging his mother across a bed while screaming at her. After her son posted the comment on Facebook Saturday, Monahan said it was true and she was a victim of “narcissist abuse” from Ellison.
At the polls, some voters like Minneapolis resident Brady Swanson said the allegation gave them pause but they still planned to vote for Ellison. Swanson, 34, said he doesn’t want to change his vote based on “the court of public opinion.” Others, including University of Minnesota student Tegan Lecheler, said they previously supported Ellison but changed their mind after hearing Monahan’s story.
“I usually give people benefit of the doubt. But I cannot vote for someone who is accused of domestic violence,” Lecheler, 19, said.
Minneapolis resident Jennifer Lindquist, 38, was at Ellison’s election night party.
“I think people get into this frenzy because they’re all trying to do the right thing, but it’s gotten to the point where all anybody has to do is say an accusation to destroy someone’s career,” she said.
Staff writers Maya Rao, Chris Bowling and Gulam Jeelani contributed to this report.
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044