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The Pelikan brief: Endorsement triggers DFL avalanche

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Matt Pelikan was endorsed by the Minnesota DFL party for attorney general.
Matt Pelikan was endorsed by the Minnesota DFL party for attorney general on June 2, 2018, in Rochester, Minn.
Jerry Olson for MPR News

When Lori Swanson announced her switch to the governor's race Monday, Matt Pelikan was briefly the only DFL candidate running for attorney general.

That changed Tuesday when Minnesota U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley, state Rep. Debra Hilstrom and former Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman jumped in. Former Attorney General Mike Hatch also filed but withdrew the next day.

Pelikan, a 36-year-old Minneapolis lawyer, was unfazed.

"I have been committed from the very beginning to the fight for a strong and progressive attorney general. I remain committed to that fight. I will never back down for a fight on behalf of the people of Minnesota, and we're just getting started," he said.

Pelikan said none of his new rivals has asked him to exit the race. But he said he's been told by some that it would make their lives easier if he did. Pelikan isn't budging.

"I'm not here to make life easier for people," he said. "I'm here to make a difference for the people of Minnesota."

Pelikan was among several DFL candidates for attorney general who stepped forward last year when Swanson was originally looking at a run for governor. After Swanson announced in January that she would instead seek reelection, Pelikan was the only challenger to stay in the race.

When Pelikan took the stage Saturday at the DFL state convention in Rochester, he mapped out an agenda far to the left of the incumbent. He criticized Swanson on several points, including her past support from the National Rifle Association.

"As attorney general, I won't stand with the NRA, I'll stand up to the NRA," he said.

Pelikan won support from 47 percent of the DFL delegates on the first ballot, compared to Swanson's 52 percent.

Swanson never addressed the convention. Hatch took to the stage to defend Swanson and raise questions about Pelikan's experience.

"The attorney general's office is not a wading pond, it is an ocean. You're taking on the toughest law firms in the country," Hatch said. "I respect Mr. Pelikan. But one thing he failed to mention, he's only been named — I looked through the court information files — six times, not as a senior lawyer but as a subordinate lawyer. He's never tried a case, not once."

Pelikan insists he has plenty of experience.

"I'm a civil litigator. Just this morning I was in court arguing on behalf of a couple women who faced egregious sexual and racial harassment at a local hospital," Pelikan said.  

Pelikan works for the Madel P.A. firm and previously worked at Robins Kaplan LLP. He said he has 20 years of legal and political experience.

"There are a lot of people in this race who are crediting their own political experience on top of their legal experience, and I think that's fair," he said. "I'm doing the same. I have been an activist, an organizer and worked for U.S. Senators and presidential campaigns, on top of being a lawyer fighting to make difference in people's lives."

There are potential historic implications to Pelikan's candidacy. If elected, he would be the first openly gay attorney general in the country and the first to win statewide office in Minnesota.

Ellison complimented the DFL endorsed candidate minutes after filing to run against him in the August primary.

"I want to say that Matt Pelikan is a great guy," he said. "I had a chance to talk to him, and I admire him a lot."