U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison hit his Republican opponent for attorney general, Doug Wardlow, on Wednesday for shifting his stance on background checks for gun sales, and Wardlow lobbed a new ad digging into Ellison’s past links to controversial figures.
Ellison pointed to Wardlow’s response during their Oct. 22 debate, where Wardlow said he would support criminal background checks on all gun sales. Wardlow later rejected that position when asked to clarify it by the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus and during a conservative talk radio interview.
“Just to be clear, I absolutely do not support background checks for private sales,” Wardlow told Northern Alliance Radio’s Mitch Berg on Oct. 27. “I do not support a gun registry. I don’t actually support any new gun laws.”
Joined by two Democratic state senators and local gun safety advocates at the Capitol on Wednesday, Ellison claimed that Wardlow backpedaled “once his conservative supporters caught wind” of his statement.
“I thought that would make one thing that we could agree on — I guess it isn’t,” said Ellison, who also pointed to $2,000 in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Wardlow’s latest campaign finance reports.
In a statement Wednesday, Wardlow’s campaign manager deemed Ellison’s news conference “another desperate attack” from the Democratic candidate’s “failing campaign.”
“Doug Wardlow is committed to defending and protecting all Minnesotans,” said Billy Grant, Wardlow’s campaign manager.
Wednesday’s news conference was Ellison’s second this week at the Capitol to criticize Wardlow. On Wednesday, Ellison sought to set Wardlow’s stance on gun laws with the backdrop of last week’s slaying of 11 Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh.
“As policymakers, we can’t escape the policy ramifications of what just happened here,” Ellison said of the attack, which involved the use of an AR-15 style weapon.
Ellison pledged laws mandating universal background checks for gun purchases, a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazine sales and “red flag” laws that would allow temporary removal of firearms from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, offered measures earlier this year on background checks and temporary removal that failed to make it to a spending bill in the Republican-controlled Senate. Latz on Wednesday put his support behind Ellison.
“We can’t afford to have an attorney general that is going to misrepresent to the public who he is and what he believes in,” Latz said.
The Minnesota attorney general has no official role in the state’s lawmaking process, which Wardlow has often pointed out when asked to comment on specific initiatives.
Also Wednesday, Wardlow released a third digital ad highlighting Ellison’s previous ties or statements in support of people like Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a black nationalist known for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories; former gang leader Sharif Willis, who served a 25-year prison sentence on drug and weapons charges; and Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba after being convicted of killing a police officer.
The latest ad criticized Ellison’s 2000 remarks in support of Sara Jane Olson, a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army who pleaded guilty to planting bombs under police cars and killing a woman in the 1970s.
“We’re talking about an event that happened 18 years ago,” Ellison said of a speech in support of Shakur. “You can cherry pick some quote somebody made from years ago. I’m telling you that I believe that police are important, that I support our law enforcement officers. I have obtained resources for them and I’m glad that I did so.”
A Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll, taken Oct. 15-17, found that Wardlow had moved into a lead over Ellison. Ellison on Wednesday described the poll as a “snapshot of a given moment” and said he still expected to emerge from a tough race. “We’ve got to work,” he said.