In theory, Keith Ellison is the most vulnerable incumbent to seek reelection from the Minneapolis-dominated Fifth Congressional District in almost 50 years, based on his maiden run in 2006.
Yet with less than 56 percent voter support that year, Ellison nonetheless enters this campaign against untested challengers and with no big mistakes to overcome.
Republicans have endorsed Barb Davis White and Greens have backed Adri Mehra in the Fifth, both first-timers. Neither shows signs of mounting a well-funded campaign that would threaten Ellison.
"I just don't see a credible candidate running against him," said Lisa McDonald, who has run for city office with both DFL and Independence Party backing. "I don't think he has screwed up."
In 2006, Ellison finished with a comfortable margin over Republican and Independence candidates who split most of the remaining vote.
As filings opened this week, the Independence Party so far has been missing in action, even though it rivaled Republicans with more than 21 percent of the vote in 2006. That year's candidate, Tammy Lee, isn't running, and the party has yet to endorse, despite a party official's teaser that a credible candidate would emerge by mid-June.
Ellison was forced to run a defensive campaign in 2006, partly because of his gaffes over unpaid parking tickets and unfiled campaign reports. "I've done my best to keep things cleaned up since then," he said in an interview.
His most controversial first-term remark compared the Bush administration's response to the Sept. 11 attacks to the Nazi consolidation of power after the Reichstag fire.
Ellison is the first to acknowledge that he has moderated his demeanor from the days when he delivered fiery speeches on North Side street corners. "I'm as passionate about my ideals, but I feel I'm a little more about getting it done than ideological purity," he said.
Thus it was Ellison who found erstwhile supporters sitting in protest at his office after he voted last year for a bill that would require all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by Aug. 31 but contained money to continue the war. "Which to me was like an emotional crisis because these are like my folks," he said.
White and Mehra have stuck to issues so far when disagreeing with Ellison, Mehra from the left and White from the right.
Mehra is a St. Louis Park native a year out of college who has been a Green Party activist, works in customer service for a credit card operation, acts and plays bass in a band. White is a North Side native who has been a mortician and a minister. Both live in northeast Minneapolis
White and Ellison agree that working families of the district are overstressed financially. Their prescriptions differ.
"They're trying to survive this onslaught of taxes," said White, whose campaign is undergirded with a smaller government message. She also supports abolishing ethanol subsidies and favors immigration changes that's fair to those here legally.
"I love Keith. We just have different ideologies. He's a Democrat, which means more government and less freedom for individuals."
Ellison also emphasizes bread-and-butter issues, arguing that fairness for the working and middle classes comes from a higher minimum wage, a right to unionize and investing in common goods like public infrastructure, schools, safe food, health care and green jobs.
Mehra has taken stands for abolishing the Federal Reserve, ending the war on drugs, eliminating NAFTA, the public owning utilities, repealing of the Patriot Act and investigating impartially the events of 9/11.
In their most recent reports, Ellison had almost $300,000 on hand at the end of March, compared with $48 for White. She said she hopes to raise half of his $1 million to $1.2 million fundraising goal; Mehra hopes to raise $5,000.
Although his percentage of the vote last time was the lowest for a winner since Donald Fraser's 52 percent in 1962, Ellison is hoping he has proved that he is up to the job.
"We've been able to show that I can legislate and run an office. We've shown that we're serious, committed, thoughtful and organized."
Steve Brandt 612-673-4438