DFL Party, Candidates Apprehensive of Ellison’s Victory


State Representative Keith Ellison surprisingly garnered the DFL endorsement in May, nabbed primary election on Sept. 12. But was that enough to guarantee him his party establishment’s full support?

Perhaps not.

With an imperfect record and questionable past, Ellison became vulnerable to his primary opponents early on. After overcoming that obstacle, his party establishment and most elected officials and candidates remain tepid- or indifferent- about his victory.

Experts agree that the DFL party feels tonic about Ellison’s coherent grassroots campaign and his victory, but prominent democrats will likely remain passive until after November election, mainly due to his less than flattering record, which they see as a vulnerable point.

Of the five Minnesota democrats in the Congress, Rep. Betty McCollum is the only member who publicly supported Ellison to date, according to the Startribune. Most others have either avoided the issue or diverted questions.

In fact, Rep. Martin Sabo, who earlier went astray from the party’s endorsement to anoint his longtime chief of staff, Mike Erlandson, declined repeated requests of an interview for this story.

He’s not alone in that trend.

The campaign for Mike Hatch, the DFL-endorsed candidate for governor, didn’t return calls requesting an interview on Ellison’s victory.

But what could be fretting to the DFL faithful is that the party’s leadership- its gatekeepers- are also peculiarly silent about all of this. After initial conversation with a staffer and a promise that Brian Melendez, the state DFL chairman, will return our call for this story, no one has called after three days.

“This is a cold silence,” says Steve Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. “I’ve never seen something like this in my career.”

Ordinarily, Schier says, the DFL party used to speak volumes about their endorsed candidate, especially after the primary. He says he can’t fathom this complete quietness about Ellison’s victory.

But everyone in the party’s ticket isn’t quiet about Ellison. After the TPT debate Tuesday night in St. Paul, Amy Klobuchar, the DFL candidate for U.S. Senate said she’s backing Ellison.

“He’s our ticket for the Fifth District and I fully support him,” she said.

Whether her sole support among prominent democrats in the state vying for an elected office is telling or not is a matter of speculation.

Larry Jacobs, another political scientist at the University of Minnesota isn’t convinced that the DFL party is lukewarm about Ellison’s victory. “I don’t see a consistent pattern of displeasure with Ellison’s victory in the DFL party,” he said.

He added that it’s not unusual for candidates who are fighting tough races such as the governor’s to focus on their own race and avoid allying themselves with other candidates.

On Sabo’s silence, Jacobs says people shouldn’t expect him to come out full swing in support of Ellison barely a week after his choice was defeated.

His comments were echoed by Dave Colling, the campaign manager for Keith Ellison. He believes that Rep. Sabo will come out to publicly support Ellison as time lapses. But with little over two months before November general election, Colling declines to quantify the amount of time it could take for Sabo to come out.

“What’s important is that the DFL party is fantastically supporting us with resources, volunteers and other things,” he said.

Nearly 10 days after primary election and an-already scathing debate with the Republican opponent Alan Fine, the DFL party hasn’t fully stood behind their voter’s choice in full swing.

A look at Ellison’s website, which lists a towering names of endorsees, attests to that. A handful of big DFL names and plenty of relatively unknown names are on the list. Chief among big names is former vice president Walter Mondale followed by Mayor R. T. Raybak.

What about the rest?

Colling, Ellison’s campaign manager, remains optimistic. He contends that the DFL party is effusively behind them. Most recently, he says, mayors Raybak of Minneapolis and Coleman of St. Paul held a joint fundraiser for Ellison. He also says that they will sit down with Mike Erlandson sometime soon.

But Schier, the Carleton professor, isn’t so optimistic.

“Maybe it’s different times and different people,” he said.