MINNEAPOLIS — Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) won a sweeping primary victory Tuesday night, running 30 points past his closest rival in the Democratic primary for attorney general. But when he addressed his supporters, he had to clear the air.
“We had a very unexpected event at the end of this campaign that happened,” Ellison said at his victory party at the Nomad World Pub. “I want to assure you that it is not true. We are going to keep on fighting all the way through. We are going to be respectful to all, and we are going to stand like steeples, and insist upon the truth.”
Just 72 hours earlier, Karen Monahan, the congressman’s former girlfriend, had circulated social media posts alleging that Ellison had emotionally and physically abused her. The most disturbing allegation was that he had dragged her off a bed, yelling obscenities, an incident she said she had secretly recorded.
But Monahan did not release that recording, and Ellison said no such tape could possibly exist as he had never abused his ex-girlfriend. He denied the allegations on Sunday afternoon. While three of Ellison’s Democratic primary opponents called for him to answer the charges, most Democrats either stayed quiet about the allegations or supported Ellison.
The Democratic National Committee, on which he serves as vice chairman, had no response; neither did the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which had endorsed another candidate in the race. As of Tuesday night, two feminist groups — Ultraviolet and the National Organization for Women — were the only national liberal organizations calling for Ellison to quit.
At his victory party, Ellison, who had not given the media notice about his recent public events, said he would deal with the charges now that the primary was over.
“We’re going to talk about all of this stuff in the days to come,” Ellison told reporters. “I want to honor you guys and let you know; we’re not trying to avoid the topic. We will handle it head-on. They are not true, but we will handle them in the days to come.”
In interviews around the city that Ellison had represented for 12 years in Congress, opinions were mixed. While some voters said the allegations had given them pause about supporting Ellison, others said they were uncomfortable with last-minute character attacks against a man they had supported for years.
“I don’t believe the allegations,” said Jerry Lefkowitz, 54, who had cast his early vote for Ellison weeks earlier. “It’s too strange [that] it came out at such a time. If true, why isn’t there visual proof?”
Hunter Hawes, a 29-year-old Democrat who had worked with Ellison as a community organizer, said he had looked into the allegations after they came out but determined there wasn’t enough evidence to change how he saw a man he knew.
“To me, the timing is very suspect and fishy to show no evidence,” he said.
But Brenda Bous, a 57-year-old Democrat who had voted early for Ellison, said the situation made her uncomfortable. She regretted casting an early vote for Ellison and said she needed to know more before marking her ballot for him in November.
“I might skip over it,” she said. “I think he should have a chance. Is it true? Is it just rumors? Is it stuff they dug up years ago? How do we know? It always is going to hang over his head.”
For some Minnesota Democrats, the Ellison situation was a case of deja vu. Less than a year earlier, Sen. Al Franken — who was growing into a role as a national Democratic figure — was brought down by allegations that he had groped women at campaign events. Gary Stucky, a 66-year old psychologist, said that he had ended up voting for Ellison, with Franken heavy on his mind.
“Looking back on that I sort of wish that [Franken] hadn’t resigned,” he said. “It’s not just digging into it. It’s about weighing things up in the end.”
Several of Ellison’s defeated opponents had suggested Monahan’s accusations warranted a criminal investigation, something Franken never faced. At his victory party, asked what he would tell victims of abuse, Ellison said he would be an advocate for them.
“As attorney general I will fight for you every single day,” he told reporters. “I will make sure you are safe and I will work with our county attorneys to make sure they have the resources and the tools they need to make sure home is are for all women, children, everyone.”
And in his speech, Ellison said he was determined to turn the election back to issues.
“It’s not about personalities, it is about the values that we share,” he said. “This is about whether Ms. McGillicuddy can get medicine she can afford that will save her life. Who is going to take on the big pharmaceuticals? That is the mission that we are on. The question is who is going to defend the Affordable Care Act and stop this administration from stripping away the protection for preexisting conditions? Who is going to stop the EPA from looting our patrimony, our earth, from killing our clean air? That’s what this fight is about.”
Ellison had also scheduled his first post-primary meet-and-greet for Thursday, in Woodbury — a suburb not far from the office he would take if he was elected attorney general.