Minnesota’s bitterly fought race for attorney general headed for a finish on Friday, as U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison touted support from former Democratic attorneys general, and Republican Doug Wardlow continued to hammer Ellison through surrogates.
Ellison held a roundtable Friday with former Vice President Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey III, both of whom once held the job he now seeks. The group, which also included former state Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, raised concerns with Wardlow’s pledge that he would immediately fire 42 Democrats in the office in comments recorded at a private fundraiser but later released by the Minnesota DFL.
“We’ve got a candidate for attorney general on the Republican ticket who has a background of being in favor of harsh, religious legal use of the attorney general’s office to pursue an agenda,” Mondale said.
Wardlow, an attorney and former one-term state legislator, has said in response to the recording that he would not be beholden to a political party or subject attorneys in the office to a political litmus test.
Also on Friday, the president of the Minneapolis police union spoke at a brief State Capitol news conference on Wardlow’s behalf, railing against what he called Ellison’s “long history of supporting cop killers.”
The Wardlow campaign has seized on past associations that have dogged Ellison, rolling out a series of digital ads casting the Democrat as “extreme” and “radical.” Lt. Bob Kroll, the Minneapolis police union leader, called Ellison’s past “disqualifying” — citing his work as a Minneapolis defense attorney in the 1990s, when he represented the leader of a gang implicated in the slaying of Minneapolis Police Officer Jerry Haaf.
“The talk of law enforcement — not just within our federation but others — is we can’t let Ellison have that office,” Kroll said.
Earlier this week, Ellison defended his representation of Sharif Willis while working at a legal aid clinic, and his support of the United for Peace coalition aimed at stopping gang violence. Some connected with the coalition were later implicated in Haaf’s murder.
“As a matter of fact, he was never charged in that case and I never represented any defendants in that case,” Ellison said. “There was clearly a time in my life that I believed that gang intervention was important to reduce violence in our community. I still think kids who are caught up in gangs need positive alternatives.”
Kroll said he spoke for his union’s 900 officers and that the decision to back Wardlow was not difficult. The group has endorsed other Republican candidates this year including candidate for governor Jeff Johnson, and U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen.
Kroll’s news conference inside the State Office Building was the third press availability staged by Wardlow supporters this week without the candidate present: Four GOP lawmakers on Monday aired their fears of an Ellison win and two other lawmakers criticized Ellison’s stance on health care on Thursday.
Wardlow’s campaign manager, Billy Grant, said of Wardlow’s absence Thursday that the Republican had already embarked on his bus tour at the time of the second news conference and that he would be at a Minnesota Republican Party news conference on Election Day. Wardlow’s campaign also said Friday that he would be greeting Vice President Mike Pence during a brief stop by Air Force Two at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Saturday. Pence is flying in to attend a rally for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in Hudson.
Both attorney general candidates have dug into the other’s past in recent weeks, with each making claims that their opponent would pursue a radical agenda. Ellison’s campaign has hit back by pointing out Wardlow’s work for a national Christian conservative legal group behind lawsuits that have fought same-sex marriage and transgender rights.
At Friday’s roundtable, former Justice Anderson expressed anger at learning Wardlow kept a political blog while a clerk for the Supreme Court: “I found the conduct of Mr. Wardlow so egregious, so undermining of the ethics and the standards we have on the court I thought he should have been terminated immediately.”
Anderson was originally appointed to the court by a Republican governor.
When asked about the blog previously, Wardlow’s campaign called it “another baseless and desperate attack from a failing campaign.”
Two polls conducted last month found both candidates holding single-digit leads with 16 and 12 percent of respondents respectively undecided. A Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll, taken Oct. 15-17, found that Wardlow had moved into a 43-36 percent lead over Ellison. A KSTP/SurveyUSA Poll, conducted between Oct. 29-31 and released Thursday, showed Ellison with a 44-40 percent advantage.
Star Tribune staff Writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.