DULUTH — The state's Democratic Farmer Labor Party leader has blasted Duluth state Sen. Erik Simonson over campaign mailers and social media posts that may "create the false impression that they have received the party's endorsement."

"I am writing to request that you cease and desist the manner in which you reference your affiliation with the 'DFL,' " Ken Martin wrote in the letter to Simonson this week. "An unendorsed candidate like you wishing to identify himself as a member of the DFL Party must use words such as 'member of' or 'affiliated with' in conjunction with the party name."

In May, Duluth attorney Jen McEwen won the party endorsement over Simonson, who was first elected to the state Senate in 2016 and had served two terms in the House.

On Thursday, Simonson said he fixed the issues Martin pointed out and "hopefully it's a little bit smoother."

"I wasn't trying to be sneaky, I get it," Simonson said. "I am an assistant minority leader of the DFL caucus in the state Senate."

At issue are phrases like "endorsed by Duluth DFL leaders" in a mailer recently sent to Duluth voters and a paid Facebook ad that says "labor and local DFL organizations are standing by Senator Simonson."

Martin told Simonson that failing to include qualifying terms "may result in a false claim of support in violation of" state campaign law.

Simonson, a former Duluth assistant fire chief who recently stepped down as CEO of Lake Superior Zoo to take an administrative job at Lake Superior College, has touted multiple union and Duluth City Council endorsements and says he will be an "experienced, pragmatic senator in St. Paul."

McEwen said she is running an "unapologetically progressive" campaign and won the Seventh District DFL endorsement with 261 out of 371 votes cast.

"Local Democrats spoke loudly and clearly when they endorsed Jen McEwen with over 70 percent of the delegate vote," said Bridget Holcomb, McEwen's campaign manager. "While it must be difficult for Sen. Simonson to have lost the support of local Democrats, it's important that we all play by the rules."

The primary for the seat is Aug. 11. The winner will face Republican Donna Bergstrom, who was Jeff Johnson's running mate in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Simonson defeated Bergstrom with 65% of the vote in 2016.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496