Two days ago, the Minnesota Democratic Party had an established order, in which candidates moved up through the ranks in an orderly, predictable fashion. Today, chaos reigns.
The drama began Saturday, when Lori Swanson, Minnesota’s attorney general since 2006, lost her party’s endorsement for re-election to a relatively unknown progressive. On Monday, Swanson announced that, rather than continue on to a statewide primary for the attorney general position, she’d be jumping into the governor’s race, with Rep. Rick Nolan as her running mate for lieutenant governor. With the deadline to file for the gubernatorial race on Tuesday, Swanson’s move has already triggered a high-speed game of musical chairs in the state’s politics. Among other things, the end result could be Rep. Keith Ellison vacating his seat in the U.S. House.
Before Swanson’s announcement, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, as the Minnesota Democrats are known, was already facing a crowded gubernatorial race. This weekend, the state party announced it would be endorsing Erin Murphy, the former majority leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives, for the state’s highest office. Some party insiders fear Murphy may be too liberal for the purple state, a fear amplified by her selection of Erin Maye Quade, a 32-year-old, first-term state house member from the progressive Twin Cities area, as a running mate.
Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, who did not win the endorsement but is considered a strong primary challenger, also announced yesterday that he still planned to compete for the nomination in August. Walz is generally considered more moderate than Murphy. Swanson, who will likely run to Walz’s right, will now make it a three-way contest. On Monday afternoon, current Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton endorsed Murphy to succeed him.
That leaves the attorney general contest open, and on Monday, sources close to Ellison told The Intercept that the congressperson was seriously considering jumping into the race. Ellison, the No. 2 at the Democratic National Committee, did not return a call for comment. Three other Democratic candidates dropped out of the running in early February to clear the field for Swanson, leaving her alone with a 36-year-old newcomer who graduated law school in 2012, but they may reconsider now that the field is open again.
From a conventional perspective, state attorney general is a step down from member of Congress, but Ellison is not a conventional politician. And the statewide position could set him up for a run for Senate if a position opens up.
To everyone’s surprise, Matt Pelikan won the attorney general endorsement of the DFL Party at Saturday’s convention, though at the time, most observers still expected Swanson to win the primary. The candidates who dropped out have until Tuesday to decide if they want to get back in the race.
Reached by phone on Monday, Pelikan told The Intercept that “qualifications are measured in more than years” and that his “begin with my principles and values that will make me a strong and progressive attorney general who gets the results that Minnesotans need.”
Pelikan argued he had “over 20 years” of experience in Minnesota law and politics, beginning with his first precinct caucus at age 13. He also cited a smorgasbord of other political and legal activity, including leadership of a College Democrats chapter, a stint as editor-in-chief of the Minnesota Law Review, and work to fight voter suppression.
Another potential contender for attorney general is Mike Hatch, a fixture of Minnesota Democratic politics who is considered Swanson’s political benefactor. He previously ran for governor in 2006, losing to Tim Pawlenty after a significant scandal in which he was caught on tape calling a reporter a “Republican whore.”
Ellison’s potential departure from his congressional seat also risks spurring a chaotic contest. A number of state legislators are rumored to have aspirations for the seat, including recently elected Somali-American Ilhan Omar.
With filing deadlines fast approaching, almost anything remains possible. For now, almost everything is rumored.
Update: June 5, 2018, 2:07 p.m.
Rep. Keith Ellison on Tuesday announced his candidacy for Minnesota attorney general.
Top photo: Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., waits for President Donald Trump to deliver his address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017.