Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) narrowly defeated Republican Doug Wardlow to become Minnesota’s next attorney general, after a bitter campaign rocked by allegations of abuse from the congressman’s ex-girlfriend. With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Ellison led Wardlow, a former state legislator, by more than 100,000 votes.
“We never thought this was in the bag, and it was a dog fight from the very beginning,” Ellison told supporters in Minneapolis. “There were challenges along the way and you know, we just kept on pushing.”
Ellison, the first Muslim to win election to statewide office, jumped into the race just five months ago, after incumbent Lori Swanson launched an unsuccessful campaign for governor. A leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Ellison said he could become a crusading attorney general, using the office to challenge the Trump administration in court, take on big business, and protect women’s rights.
But days before Ellison won the party’s primary, his ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan, went public with the allegation that the congressman had emotionally abused her and once pulled her off a bed during an argument. Republicans, who had expected to attack Ellison on his left-wing politics and former association with the Nation of Islam, wondered if the scandal had provided an opening. The National Organization for Women called on Ellison to quit the race; the congressman denied Monahan’s allegations, and agreed to cooperate with a legal probe, paid for by the Democratic Farmer Labor Party.
That probe dragged on until Oct. 2, when the DFL’s hired attorney announced that Monahan, who had said she’d had a tape that would prove Ellison had abused her, could not provide enough evidence to substantiate her accusation. A conservative media outlet sued to open Ellison’s divorce records, which revealed that he had never been accused of abuse by his ex-wife, but a poll in mid-October showed Wardlow moving ahead of Ellison.
The Democrat stayed on the offensive, denying the allegations as Democrats raised questions about why Monahan had hired a Wardlow ally as her attorney. He attacked Wardlow over his work for the socially conservative Alliance Defending Freedom; after the probe cleared him, and after he’d asked for an additional House Ethics Investigation, he began to rack up endorsements from Democrats who had stayed away.
Ellison’s win appeared to be part of a sweep for Minnesota Democrats, who easily held onto the governor’s office, won every statewide race, and flipped the state House.
Torey Van Oot contributed reporting.