Ellison wins 5th District battle

Fifth District Congressional candidate Keith Ellison accepts congratulations from a supporter Tuesday night. Ellison knocked off six other DFLers to advance to the general election in November.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

In the end, Ellison's victory wasn't as close as the campaigns and the prognosticators predicted. With all of the precincts reporting, Ellison garnered 41 percent of the vote.

Former DFL Party Chair Mike Erlandson was second with 31 percent of the vote and former state senator Ember Reichgott Junge was third with 21 percent of the vote.

Ellison's supporters crowded into an Ethiopian restaurant in Minneapolis, cheerings with every vote update showing Ellison pulling ahead of his opponents and when his opponents conceded defeat.

Down out in the 5th District
Fifth Congressional District DFL candidate Mike Erlandson read the results and acknowledges the obvious Tuesday.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

From the time he received the DFL endorsement in May, Ellison said he'd run an unconventional campaign that would rely on both core DFL supporters and unlikely voters.

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With the DFL endorsement in hand, Ellison targeted likely primary voters with campaign literature touting his opposition to the war in Iraq, support for single-payer, universal health care and his strong stand against the Bush administration.

He also focused on getting African Americans, Somali immigrants and residents from the north side of Minneapolis to the polls. Those groups don't typically vote in high numbers in primary elections.

"In this election, we had people who say, 'shalom,' we had people who say, 'Aslam-o-Alaikum!' We had people who say all the words of greeting to each other in peace, because peace must be the guiding principle of our nation," Ellison said.

Ellison's victory takes him one step closer to being the first Muslim elected to Congress and the first African American congressman in Minnesota history. He says he'll work to unify Democrats after a long and often bruising campaign.

Reichgott Junge concedes
Ember Reichgott Junge concedes on primary night in her campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Former DFL Party Chair Mike Erlandson says he intends to back the entire DFL ticket, including Ellison, in November. Erlandson served as Congressman Sabo's chief of staff and had Sabo's endorsement.

Sabo campaigned heavily for Erlandson over the past few weeks, recording a radio ad, knocking on doors and appearing in campaign literature. Those efforts weren't enough and Erlandson won't be able to replace his former boss in January.

"The reality is it was a good campaign, it was a hard-fought campaign," Erlandson told supporters. "We battled it out. It's not the Olympics, so there's no silver medal in politics."

Ember Reichgott Junge also expressed disappointment with the outcome. During the weeks leading up to the election, Reichgott Junge believed she was gaining support. She raised more money than the other candidates, ran the most television ads and had the backing of EMILY's List, a national organization that supports female candidates who support legalized abortion.

"I want to first congratulate Keith Ellison, he will be going on to Congress. I congratulate him and I wish him well in his role in going forward in the United State Congress, where I expect that he will serve," she said on Tuesday night.

Reichgott Junge and others believe Ellison will have a relatively easy time in the November election because Minnesota's 5th Congressional District is a DFL stronghold. Congressman Sabo overwhelmingly won in the district that includes Minneapolis and several suburbs.

But his victory isn't a certainty, especially after some questioned Ellison's past. The criticism includes his relationship to the Nation of Islam, having his driver's license suspended for not paying his parking tickets and for being fined for failing to properly file his campaign finance reports as a state lawmaker.

Ellison will now face Independence Party member Tammy Lee, Republican Alan Fine and Green Party candidate Jay Pond in the November election. Fine says he will continue to make Ellison's character an issue throughout the campaign.

"Having a person like this running for U.S. Congress, with the background that he has and the things that have been revealed about him. We should all be concerned as Minnesotans, having someone like Keith Ellison representing us," Fine said.

The Republican Party of Minnesota also sent out a news release characterizing the DFL Party as "shifting from the party of Humphrey to the party of Ellison."

Ellison says he will continue to run a positive campaign and will work to turn out more voters in the November election for his candidacy and the rest of the DFL ticket.