Amid governor’s race shake-up, Rep. Keith Ellison considers attorney general run

MinnPost file photo by Bill Kelley
Lori Swanson’s entry into the governor’s race gives Rep. Keith Ellison another opening for the attorney general gig that fired him up just a few months ago.

The aftermath of the DFL’s convention in Rochester may be creating turmoil at the top of their ticket, but it’s also creating unexpected opportunities further down the ballot: with Attorney General Lori Swanson making a last-minute bid for governor, 5th District Rep. Keith Ellison is seriously considering running for her post, according to multiple sources.

If he goes forward, Ellison would immediately elevate an attorney general race that, to this point, was considered sleepy — and set off what could be a crowded and contentious battle to succeed him in the 5th District.

On Saturday, Swanson failed to get the party’s endorsement for attorney general after receiving 52 percent of delegates’ votes on the first ballot, leading challenger Matt Pelikan by just five points. She then withdrew from the endorsement contest, and the convention endorsed Pelikan, a Minneapolis attorney and longtime DFL activist who had billed himself as the “progressive alternative” to Swanson.

Ellison’s interest in the attorney general job has been public record for some time: when Swanson flirted with running for governor earlier this year, the Minneapolis congressman put out feelers for an attorney general bid. Stories circulated in the Capitol Hill press about Ellison being unsatisfied in Washington, and particularly at the Democratic National Committee, where he has served as vice chair since February 2017 after losing a bid to chair the party to Tom Perez.

Publicly, Ellison denied rumors of his dissatisfaction and downplayed any friction at the DNC. But sources close to Ellison indicated the congressman, a practicing attorney before he arrived in Congress in 2007, viewed the attorney general post as one where he could be more effective in countering the agenda of the Donald Trump administration. In the Trump era, Democratic attorneys general have taken on added prominence as states file high-profile lawsuits against the administration on key issues like the travel ban and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Swanson’s entry into the governor’s race gives Ellison another opening for the attorney general gig that fired him up just a few months ago. If he jumps in, the DFL would likely get another primary fight: Ellison would be challenging Pelikan, assuming the endorsed candidate does not step aside. Former attorney general and Swanson ally Mike Hatch is also “weighing his options” and reportedly has not ruled out a run for his old job. The filing deadline for all races is Tuesday at five o’clock in the afternoon. (A spokesperson for Ellison did not comment on the record.)

Voters in CD5 would get another primary, too: multiple Democrats are likely to file for Ellison’s job if he vacates his seat. State Rep. Ilhan Omar is frequently mentioned by operatives as a likely candidate. State Sen. Scott Dibble and former Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher are also mentioned as possible candidates.

A veteran congressman and nationally prominent Democrat, Ellison has never run a campaign for statewide office in Minnesota. He would be able to tap into a high level of name identification as well as a national network of potential campaign donors. However, Minnesota Republicans have waited for a chance to go head-to-head with Ellison in a statewide race, and national GOP groups — which passed on investing heavily in the attorney general race after Swanson decided against running for governor last year — may reconsider. The endorsed Republican candidate is former state legislator Doug Wardlow.

There is some uneasiness within the party about running a statewide ticket heavy on figures from the Twin Cities metro area, following state Rep. Erin Murphy’s endorsement victory in the governor’s race.

Some Democrats are also apprehensive about the prospect of a contentious primary to replace Swanson in the attorney general role and Ellison in Congress, during an election year when Minnesota Democrats are already battling to retain the governor’s mansion, hold two U.S. Senate seats, and pick up U.S. House seats in the suburbs while defending long-held House seats in Greater Minnesota.

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/04/2018 - 04:59 pm.


    The news keeps getting worse for the DFL. They’ve been running against Ellison outstate for the last 10 years.

  2. Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 06/04/2018 - 05:47 pm.

    Well, there goes the AG seat

    Lori Swanson could have easily skated to victory against Pellikan.

  3. Submitted by Carolyn Jones on 06/05/2018 - 08:57 am.

    Looks like George soro’s infiltration to buy all the AG positions across the country has found its candidate here in MN.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/05/2018 - 10:29 am.

      George Soros

      Soros is not involved in attorney general races. He has donated money in a bunch county prosecutor races. That has nothing to do with Ellison running in Minnesota.

      Also, his name is Soros, not Soro or Soro’s. If you are using possessive, the apostrophe does not go in the middle of his name.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 06/05/2018 - 11:26 am.

    And here I thought that the batuibak Democratic Party was putting all its efforts toward keeping all the safe House seats while it tried to pry 24 other seats away from Republicans, as the surest way to stymie Trump’s agenda through “flippinb” the House. Ellison is thus putting his personal ambition (he maybe sees himself as an East Coast Attorney General with his name in the news all the time) ahead of Democrats’ primary interest: controlling Trump.

    I am more than disappointed with Keith Ellison’s decision, because I see no statesmanship at all, in a time when our President thinks he’s an absolute monarch, who can even–according to Rudy Giuliani his current spokesman–kill the FBI Director with impunity.

    • Submitted by David LaPorte on 06/05/2018 - 03:02 pm.

      CD5 is heavily Democratic

      I have no idea how Ellison will do in the Attorney General’s race, but it would be stunning if the Republicans took CD5. It’s about as blue as blue can be.

  5. Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 06/05/2018 - 12:17 pm.

    A Murphy/Maye Quade/Ellison ticket

    Is gonna freak out the suburbs and Greater Minnesota. This will drag down Tina Smith as well. Klobuchar in this scenario is the only one I see surviving. Simon/Blaha could make it but the top of the ticket could hurt us

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/05/2018 - 01:53 pm.


      This is an absolute nightmare. We are going to lose 3 house seats as well. And a bunch more State house seats.

      • Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 06/05/2018 - 10:48 pm.

        I don’t like Mike Hatch at all

        But if I absolutely have to I will suck it up and vote for him in the primary. Idk Hilstrom and she doesn’t really have the name recognition

        Hopefully Walz takes the primary. Which he still could since EMQ botched the E85 question. But now that Swanson/Nolan is in they might split the votes. So that might let Murphy-Quade through

    • Submitted by ian wade on 06/06/2018 - 03:01 pm.

      If this is the actual ticket,

      I would share your fear. However, I’d bet money that Murphy/Quade won’t be on the ballot in November.

      • Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 06/07/2018 - 09:47 pm.

        Hopefully Swanson/Nolan is a non factor

        So Walz/Flanagan can get through. Lori Swanson is starting from scratch so I just don’t think they’ll get over the hump

  6. Submitted by Joseph Mish on 06/05/2018 - 02:44 pm.

    Reminder to Democrats…

    Either consider farmers and labor part of your party, or drop the F and L in your name. The simple fact that you failed to endorse Tim Walz, the one candidate for governor who can talk to out state Minnesota (and win there) and now this. I shudder at what the Republicans are going to do this state in the next session when they control everything.

  7. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 06/05/2018 - 03:30 pm.

    Thank you Keith!

    Keith must be thinking that the house will stay in the hands of the GOP. Either way he would still be irrelevant.

    I hope he wins the primary and campaigns around the state with his “No borders” t-shirt.

    His record of not paying taxes, unpaid parking tickets and support of louis Farrakhan are just resume enhancements for the DFL ticket. These issues will serve him well as he campaigns for the top law enforcement office in the State.

    Keith is the gift that keeps on giving!

  8. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 06/05/2018 - 04:49 pm.

    Ellison for AG

    oh, you betcha…the Republicons are salivating at the chance to hate the Other, the Muslim in Congress from Minnesota. Ellison is all over this and understands hatred for the Other. he can handle it! it’ll be great having him back in Minnesota again! you go, Keith Ellison!

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