Keith Ellison, a two-term Democratic state representative, nabbed the primary race for the highly contested Fifth Congressional District, en route to become the nation’s first Muslim Congressman and Minnesota’s first black elected to Congress.
“We made history tonight. We came from all colors, all faiths and all backgrounds,” he shouted to the boisterous crowd that came to celebrate with him. “Everybody counts.”
Ellison, 43, surprisingly plucked the DFL’s endorsement in May, but faced a well-funded, well-connected opponents including Mike Erlandson, the longtime chief of staff for Rep. Martin Sabo, who’s vacating his 28-year-long seat.
After loosing the DFL endorsement, Erlandson got the endorsement of his ex-boss Sabo and the state’s biggest newspaper, the Star Tribune.
More menacing to Ellison’s bid for Congress were some potentially lethal pockmarks on his record, including an affiliation with the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam, to which he currently vehemently disavows, and tardiness in paying parking tickets.
But Ellison, whose campaign accentuated national media attention, wasn’t ready to give up that easy.
“We faced some tough times, but we never got negative,” he said, his family in tow. “Negative campaigning doesn’t enhance humanity, doesn’t build bridges or anything.”
Despite Sabo’s endorsement of his nemesis, Ellison touted his longtime service to the people of the Fifth District.
“Tonight, I’d like to thank the great Congressman Sabo for his tireless service to this District,” he said.
Garnering more than 41 percent of the vote, Ellison surpassed all forecasts that predicted close elections. Erlandson came second, while Reichgott Junge got distance third.
The voter turnout, particularly that of minority and faith communities, was “astounding.”
“There are people in this crowd who greet with ‘Shalom’ and ‘Assalamu Alaikum’ and others with something else different,” he said, referring to the Jewish and Muslim greetings respectively.
A self-proclaimed “proven, progressive leader,” Ellison made global peace and universal healthcare strategic centerpieces for his campaign.
“Peace must be the guiding principle of this nation,” he said.
Asked if he will play any role in reshaping America’s tarnished image around the Muslim world, Ellison said that he will try to do that overtime.
At the rapturous victory party Tuesday night, 47-year-old Hakim Tore, a naturalized Liberian immigrant from Minneapolis said he’s very happy to witness a fellow Muslim African American ascend to Congress.
“I couldn’t be part of a better thing,”
In the November general elections, he still has to fend off three candidates from the Republican, Independent and Green Parties. But the uncompromisingly left-leaning Fifth District is highly favored to send him to the Congress, making him the first black Congressman from Minnesota and the first Muslim in the Congress.