ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Democrats are worried that allegations of domestic abuse made by a former girlfriend of Rep. Keith EllisonKeith EllisonMinnesota AG ups charges against ex-police officer in shooting of Daunte Wright Trump campaign, RNC refund donors another .8 million in 2021: NYT Attorneys general looking into online fundraising practices MORE (D) could be a drag on his chances of winning the state’s attorney general’s office, a post Democrats have held for almost half a century.
The Minneapolis Democrat has denied the charges, and an investigation paid for by the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party could not corroborate the woman’s claims.
But the allegations have taken a toll, and the race between Ellison and former state Rep. Doug Wardlow (R) is neck and neck.
A poll conducted for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio last month showed Ellison leading Wardlow, 41 percent to 36 percent, even as Democratic candidates led their Republican rivals up and down the ballot in other contests.
The poll showed more voters, 31 percent, said they had an unfavorable impression of Ellison than those who said they had a favorable impression at 20 percent.
Voters and Democratic activists here say the allegations are weighing on the party’s prospects — and, in some cases, their own thoughts about the liberal firebrand whose star seemed to be on the rise.
“Unfortunately, it’s hurting him and Republicans are using it to bring down other Democrats,” said Roberta Humphries, a retiree who volunteers for Democratic candidates.
Republicans have castigated Democrats for inaction after most Democratic officials declined to ask Ellison to step down, either as the Democratic nominee or from his post as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee — especially in the wake of sexual misconduct claims made against Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughRepublicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Why isn't Harris leading the charge against the Texas abortion law? MORE during his confirmation hearings last month.
State Sen. Karin Housley, the Republican nominee challenging Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Democratic leaders vow climate action amid divide Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill On The Money — The Democratic divide on taxes MORE (D), used the allegations to attack Smith for what she called a double standard.
“Curiously, Tina Smith has chosen to believe Keith Ellison’s ‘categorical’ denials, affirming his support for him and openly campaigning with him,” Housley said in a statement. “It’s time to put an end to the hypocrisy and give Minnesotans the clarity they deserve.”
Smith has not mentioned Ellison in recent weeks. She is still listed as having endorsed his campaign on Ellison’s website.
Wardlow’s campaign is using the allegations in hopes of discrediting Ellison.
“Keith Ellison has been accused of domestic violence by multiple women. Even the National Organization for Women has called for Ellison to end his campaign,” the ad says.
Ellison’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Ken Martin, the chairman of the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said he has not seen evidence in the party’s weekly polls that the allegations are dragging down other candidates.
But he said the allegations have made the race for attorney general much closer than it should be in a blue state and in a year in which Democrats benefit from a tailwind.
“It’s going to be a close race. It shouldn’t be a close race,” Martin said in an interview. “It’s a concern to me, it’s a concern to all of the Democrats who work in politics in this state.”
Martin said an additional investigation from state or local law enforcement “is necessary and prudent.”
The party’s handouts, which typically highlight their entire slate of candidates, now omit down-ballot contenders like Ellison, a hint that it wants to steer clear of the controversy.
Ellison, a rising star in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party who narrowly lost a race to chair the Democratic National Committee last year, made an unexpected jump into the race for a statewide office back home.
Ellison decided to run for attorney general after the incumbent, Lori Swanson (D), made a late entry into the race for governor.
Swanson lost the primary to Rep. Tim WalzTim WalzJudge rejects Minnesota parents' attempt to force statewide school mask mandate Former Minnesota Senate Republican leader announces campaign for governor Minnesota parents sue Gov. Walz over lack of mask mandate in schools MORE (D). Ellison won the Democratic nomination for attorney general with just under 50 percent of the vote against four lesser-known candidates, days after the allegations became public.
Republicans believed they had little hope of beating Swanson, had she run for reelection.
Party strategists privately said they missed an opportunity to recruit a candidate stronger than Wardlow, who served a single term in the state House before losing reelection.
Some Democrats said the timing of the allegations just before the primary raised eyebrows.
“It’s a tragedy that this thing came out the way it did,” said Chuck Smith-Dewey, a Democratic activist who runs a health-care website. “We don’t know the truth of what happened, but I’m getting sick of this trial by news cycle.”
The Minnesota poll showed 21 percent of voters believe the claims of domestic violence, while 22 percent did not. Fifty-seven percent said they were unsure.
The allegations “really disappointed me because I liked” Ellison, said Liz Fleming, a retiree in Bloomington who does not count herself as a Democrat or a Republican. “That will affect how I vote.”
Democrats say they hope to make the race a binary choice between Ellison and Wardlow, whom they paint as an arch conservative.
“We want to take allegations of abuse seriously,” said Matt Klein, a state senator who represents a suburban St. Paul district. “The alternative, Doug Wardlow, is simply unacceptable.”