Sanders Backs Ellison for Minnesota Attorney General

Bernie Sanders & Keith Ellison / Getty Images
July 9, 2018

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) has thrown his weight behind Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison in hopes of bolstering the latters' quest to become the next attorney general of Minnesota.

Ellison, the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and longtime progressive stalwart, garnered Sanders' enthusiastic backing on Friday, according to the Star-Tribune.

In his endorsement, the senator heralded Ellison as a "fierce ally of working people," who, if elected, would use the attorney general's office to champion the cause of those being "discriminated against" and the "economically oppressed."

"Not only has Keith been a fierce ally of working people in Congress — fighting for the $15 minimum wage, for Medicare for All, to protect consumers, and against wage theft — he was also a former civil rights lawyer representing low-income clients," Sanders said. "With Keith as their attorney general, Minnesotans would have a fighter for working people, the discriminated against, and the economically oppressed."

Ellison jumped into the race for attorney general in early June, shortly after the incumbent ended her re-election bid after failing to lock up the Democratic Party's endorsement at the state nominating convention. The congressman has made his opposition to the policies of the Trump administration a focal point of his campaign, arguing Minnesota needs an attorney general willing to stand up to "threats" from Washington, D.C.

Apart from endorsing Ellison, Sanders will journey to Minnesota on July 13 to host rallies with the candidate in Duluth and Minneapolis. Sanders' visit comes only weeks after President Donald Trump held a campaign-style rally in the state.

The endorsement also comes on the heels of efforts by the national Democratic Party to coalesce around Ellison ahead of the August 14 primary. The congressman, who faces four other competitors for the Democratic nomination, has received the high-profile backing of former Vice President Walter Mondale, Democracy for America, and the Minnesota chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America in recent weeks.

Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, has represented the Minneapolis based 5th Congressional District since 2007. Throughout his tenure, Ellison has endeared himself to the Democratic Party's progressive base by promoting the impeachment of former Vice President Dick Cheney for "high crimes and misdemeanors," endorsing a universal basic income, and leading the charge for single-payer health care.

The congressman was also one of the earliest backers of Sanders' failed 2016 presidential bid. Ellison's decision, which went against Democratic Party orthodoxy at the time, paid off as Sanders crushed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Minnesota's 2016 Democratic Presidential Caucuses by a margin of over 20 percentage points.

Sanders repaid Ellison's efforts on the behalf of his presidential campaign by endorsing the Minnesotan's effort to lead the DNC last year. The contest, which showcased the raging divide within the Democratic Party between the establishment and progressive activists, pitted Ellison against Tom Perez, President Barack Obama's former secretary of labor. Ellison eventually lost narrowly, but in conciliation was appointed by Perez to serve as DNC deputy chair in hopes of uniting the party.

Speculation has long centered that Ellison, who promised to resign his position in the House if elected DNC chair, has designs on higher office.

In December, after Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) announced his resignation, in light of numerous sexual harassment allegations, Ellison emerged as a prime contender to replace him. The congressman's hopes of ascending to the Senate were dashed when Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D.) chose to appoint then-Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D.) to fill the vacancy. Ellison passed on challenging Smith this year for the right to finish the remainder of Franken's term, deciding instead to throw his full weight behind the newly-minted senator to avoid a divisive primary.