Congressman Keith Ellison to Run for Minnesota Attorney General

by | June 5, 2018

By Jessie Van Berkel

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison filed Tuesday to run in the DFL primary for attorney general, leaving his congressional seat open and further upending the DFL field of candidates in a high-stakes election year.

Ellison, a six-term member of Congress from Minneapolis and also deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, made it official with a noon visit to the Secretary of State's office.

"I believe the people of Minnesota need an attorney general who will fight for all," Ellison said after filing.

Tuesday at 5 p.m. is the deadline for candidates to file for the primary ballot, and a series of unexpected twists in recent days has left prominent DFLers scrambling in various races.

Ellison's decision to step away from his Fifth Congressional District seat is likely to open another rush of DFL contenders for that seat, with a number of prominent state legislators from Hennepin County positioned to jump in. And it means a big DFL fight in the attorney general primary, with several other candidates also filing Tuesday: former Attorney General Mike Hatch, state Rep. Debra Hilstrom and endorsed candidate Matt Pelikan, an attorney.

The filing deadline meant a busy day at the Secretary of State's office, where candidates fill out the necessary paperwork. At one point, Republican Tim Pawlenty and Democrat Erin Murphy arrived simultaneously on Tuesday to officially file to run for governor.

But the most unexpected action early Tuesday came in the race for state attorney general, a day after Attorney General Lori Swanson jumped into the governor's race instead.

One of the first to file for the DFL's AG primary in the morning was Hatch. He filled out the paperwork to run for his old job, but said he might withdraw if the right candidate enters, such as state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, former Rep. Ryan Winkler, former Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman or Sen. Tony Lourey.

Hilstrom filed to run for the attorney general's job a couple hours later, saying she would bring experience as a prosecutor and 18 years in the state House to the job.

Hatch was not the only person who filed, but then said their candidacy was dependent on what other others do. Candidates have until 5 p.m. Thursday to withdraw.

"We'll see what happens by the end of the day," said Hatch, who supported Swanson. She lost the DFL endorsement to newcomer Matt Pelikan last weekend.

"I'm looking for a candidate who can represent the entire state, who's been to court," Hatch said said.

Swanson's decision to run with retiring U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan as her running mate set in motion a potential chain reaction, with much speculation about which candidates would enter the attorney general's race and what other ramifications that could have up and down the ballot.

The first person to file at the Secretary of State's office on Tuesday was University of Minnesota law student and Hennepin County Attorney's Office law clerk Joshua Preston. He said he was filing for state Rep. Ilhan Omar's Minneapolis seat, and would run in the event that she ran for Ellison's job. Ellison had previously considered a run for the attorney general's job, when it seemed Swanson was not going to run, and DFLers had been on high alert leading up to when he showed up to file.

When asked whether she would leave the attorney general's race if Ellison runs, Hilstrom said, "I will stay in the race, no matter who files."

Pelikan and DFL State Auditor candidate Julie Blaha also showed up to file at the same time as Pawlenty and Murphy and their respective running mates.

"It's a nice crowd, it makes it all the more exciting," Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, Pawlenty's running mate, said.

Murphy was exiting the filing office as Pawlenty entered, and the two stopped to shake hands.

"I look forward to seeing you along the trail," he said. "See you on the trail," she replied.

Other DFL gubernatorial candidates Tim Walz and Swanson, and GOP candidate Jeff Johnson had already filed. Pawlenty said the decision of so many DFLers to participate in the primary, even after Murphy won the party's endorsement, was "awesome."

Pawlenty and Fischbach skipped the GOP convention to head straight to the primary.

"We want to open the process up, democratize it, make it more fair, the American way. This is a good thing ... Who wants a small group of people to anoint a candidate at a convention most people can't attend?" Pawlenty said before he filed.

After filing, Murphy said she and her running mate, fellow House member Rep. Erin Maye Quade, will be on the road for the next several days, sharing their vision of a "hopeful kind of politics" from Austin to Bemidji.

"I set out to win this race and I've got my eye on that prize," Murphy said. "And if others decide to get into the race, then they do. I've learned over and over again, from my very first race, that competition makes me better. And I will be a stronger candidate, winning the primary, because others are in this race. I'm ready to go."

Star Tribune staff writer Erin Golden contributed to this story.

(c)2018 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)