U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is getting a boost for his campaign for attorney general Friday from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who will campaign in Minneapolis and Duluth.
In the crowded primary race, Ellison has attracted the most attention, in part because his decision to leave Congress touched off a different primary battle for that seat. Whether that attention adds up to more votes won't be clear until the Aug. 14 primary election, but four other Democrats are also making a case for their qualifications for the job.
Matt Pelikan, a Minneapolis lawyer and first-time candidate, won the DFL endorsement for attorney general last month when incumbent Lori Swanson dropped out of the race. She later launched a bid for governor.
Pelikan said he has great respect for Ellison and his other primary opponents: former Ramsey County attorney Tom Foley, state Rep. Debra Hilstrom and former state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. But Pelikan said he believes voters are looking for a bold, progressive attorney general.
"Qualifications are about more than experience. It's about perspective and values. And for me, it's about everything from growing up in small-town Minnesota with a loving family, but as a gay kid who faced my share of bullying and isolation that taught me how politics can make a difference in peoples' lives, that gave me a deep empathy for fighting for people," he said.
Hilstrom is also promising to be a fighter as attorney general. For the past 18 years, Hilstrom has represented her hometown of Brooklyn Center in the Minnesota House. She is the lead Democrat on the House public safety committee and spent time as a prosecutor in Anoka County before she was elected to the Legislature.
Hilstrom said she is uniquely qualified to take on the job of protecting Minnesotans.
"No one should be too big that they are above the law, and no one should be too small that they're below its protection," she said.
All the candidates are highlighting their resumes as better than the others.
"I have the most experience of all of them," said Rothman, adding that his consumer protection credentials and previous work as a trial lawyer make him the most qualified candidate.
"On day one, if we had a case in the Supreme Court of Minnesota or managing cases, I'd be able to pick up the briefs, run with them and stand strong for the people of Minnesota to protect them," he said.
Foley spent 16 years as Ramsey County attorney, beginning in 1979, and prosecuted several prominent cases. He also served a year as Washington County attorney and made unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
Foley didn't name names but raised concerns about a "weak candidate" winning the primary and putting the DFL's 48-year hold on the attorney general's office in jeopardy.
"If there's a weak candidate there, I think they could drag down the rest of the ticket," Foley said.
As the oldest candidate in the field, Foley sees his experience and style as key differences from his DFL rivals.
"Running a public law office is a great responsibility," he said. "I think it should be more legal-oriented, experience-oriented and not just jumping up and giving political platitudes that sound good to the public but really has nothing to do with the office."