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Ellison soon may not be only Muslim in Congress

A second Muslim congressman?

It’s not for sure, but U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is very likely to lose his status this week as the first and only Muslim in Congress.

A special election Tuesday will choose a new congressman to fill a vacancy in Indiana’s 7th District. The Democratic nominee, and the slight favorite to win, is Andre Carson, a self-described “Orthodox, universal, secular Muslim.”

Carson, 33, a Democrat in a Dem-leaning district, is favored to beat state Rep. Jon Elrod, a Republican who won his legislative seat in a traditionally Dem district. Some polls have shown Carson with a solid lead, one showed him up by only 3 percent, and predicting turnout for special elections is tricky.

Like Ellison, Carson grew up Christian, attended Catholic schools and converted to Islam as a young man. Like Ellison he is black and has had to fend off questions about possible connections to the Nation of Islam (aka the Black Muslims) and its racist, anti-Semitic leader Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan endorsed Carson but Carson denies he has any ties to Farrakhan.

Ellison has taken an interest in the race, according to his spokester, Rick Jauert. He co-hosted a Washington fund-raiser for Carson and attended another.

The special election was necessitated by the death on Dec. 15 of the six-term incumbent, Rep. Julia Carson, Andre’s grandmother. On her deathbed, she asked Democrats to choose her grandson to succeed her. Andre Carson was chosen by a caucus of party insiders, without a primary.

If he wins, he faces an odd situation, since he will have to begin immediately running to retain the seat in the November general election, starting with a May 6 primary in which several other well-known Democrats plan to run against him. That fact may also complicate the party solidarity he otherwise would enjoy heading into Tuesday’s special election.

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