The ink was barely dry on last night’s election returns, which gave Rep. Keith Ellison a surprisingly easy DFL primary victory in the 5th District congressional race, when Republican Alan Fine’s campaign circulated a press release calling Ellison an “extremist” tied not only to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan but to former Vice Lords gang leader Sharif Willis.
Fine had been running a civil, issues-oriented campaign—including an entertaining evening of “piano and policy” at the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown and a five-hour “building bridges” symposium at Coffman Union on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus—prior to Tuesday’s primary, so today’s attack on Ellison marked a new tactic in Fine’s attempt to recapture a seat Republicans have not held since 1962.
Asked whether going negative so early in the campaign was a conscious strategy, Fine argued that the election was too important to pull any punches. “This is serious,” he said. “This is the person who is going to be representing us in Congress.”
Despite the negative coverage Ellison received from most of the media during the primary campaign, Fine insists that his flaws have not been adequately exposed. “The public needs to know who these people are,” he said. “So much is out there, but I don’t know that the public is really paying attention up until now.”
Asked to explain Ellison’s connection to Willis, Fine couldn’t give any details, but he went on to compare the DFL endorsee to white supremacist David Duke. “It’s not just his stance on the issues, but the character of the individuals who will be representing us,” he said.
Fine also contended that any talk of the Sabo seat as being a lock for the DFL is premature. “It’s absolutely not a done deal.”
Observers have suggested that the Ellison victory in the primary would attract some national Republican money to the Fine campaign, but Fine denied that he’s received an infusion of money from outside the state. Indeed, he claimed that it’s disenchanted 5th District DFLers who have been calling him and making contributions since the primary returns came in.
Given the maelstrom of bad press that has been dogging the Ellison campaign for the past several weeks, it’s hard to imagine that Fine is going to make much of a dent in the DFLer’s support with such claims. It’s more likely that the hard-edged approach is going to alienate moderates who saw Fine as a non-partisan, solutions-oriented candidate and send them in the direction of Independence Party candidate Tammy Lee, who thus far has chosen to take the high road.