Working for a Local Candidate in a Global Campaign


When Clare Sorman was called to become a scheduler for Keith Ellison’s bid to represent the Fifth District in Congress, she had no idea that she will be contacted by strangers around the world who speak more 37 languages.
“It was an international spotlight,” she said in a telephone interview.

Sorman worked for other federal and local campaigns in the past, but never received calls from places like France, Brazil, Australia, South Africa and Malaysia, for interview requests or for congratulatory notes.

But for Ellison, some 900 messages saturated the campaign’s email account the day after General Election, and, at some point, Sorman overused her cell phone minutes for answering global calls congratulating Ellison for winning just the primary, well before he became the nation’s first Muslim Congressman-elect.

The avalanche of calls and emails, predominantly from Muslims around the world, were “expressing excitement in having Muslims finally represented in Congress,” said Sorman, though, like Ellison, she reiterates that he represents the Fifth District, not Muslims in particular.

“Ellison is a politician, who happens to be a Muslim,” she stressed. “He’s not the Muslim’s politician.”

But, inevitably, he’s perceived by many Muslim around the world as a virtuoso, who will help placate the exasperated relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

“People have a lot of questions about what he’ll be doing when he gets to Congress,” said Bridget Cusick, a spokeswoman for Ellison’s campaign. “They want to know his positions on things like foreign relations and terrorism.”

All of a sudden, she said, the local campaign turned one with global dimensions.

Cusick, who also previously worked for a Congressional candidate in New Mexico, said the biggest challenge in this campaign was clarifying Ellison’s past writings in a school newspaper when he was a student who used different last names. That became a campaign issue, repeatedly raised by his Republican opponent, Alan Fine.

“Ellison is a substance candidate,” she said, in response to a question about why he decided not to attack his Republican nemesis on vulnerable issues, such as the domestic violence occurrence revealed by the Star Tribune. A conscious decision was made to stay positive, she said.

Cusick admits that race and religion make a difference in the type of campaign run by any candidate, but touts the Fifth District, a liberal citadel, for being “incredibly positive” when electing candidates, “regardless of their color or faith.”

In addition to being the first Muslim Congressman-elect, Ellison is also the first African American representing Minnesota in Congress.

Both Cusick and Sorman, the scheduler, said that they knew about Ellison’s past problems, but never second-guessed to work for him when they were approached.

“He apologized for being late on parking tickets and pledged it wouldn’t happen again,” said Sorman. “And that was enough for me.”

These days, Sorman and Cusick are not putting the average of 60-70 hours a week they routinely worked before the election, but they are celebrating a hard-fought victory.