Attorney General Keith Ellison wins second term as GOP opponent concedes
Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison narrowly defeated Republican challenger Jim Schultz in a heated race that centered on crime and abortion.
The Democrat won by more than 20,000 votes, with Schultz saying Wednesday afternoon that he would be calling Ellison to congratulate him on his re-election.
“This election really was tough. Fear, division, the nasty commercials, millions of dollars spent just to sow hate, division and fear. And you know what, we overcame it,” Ellison told supporters early Wednesday morning.
Ellison campaigned on protecting abortion rights and “helping Minnesotans afford their lives” as he sought a second act to his high-profile first term. He hoped that message, along with his name recognition and fervent efforts to turn out voters, would help propel him to another four years and sustain the DFL’s long hold on the state’s chief legal office.
Schultz, a political newcomer and former investment firm attorney from Minnetonka, ran on a tough-on-crime message as he aimed to become the state’s first Republican attorney general in half a century.
“I am very proud of the race we ran. We received the highest percentage of the vote for a Republican candidate for constitutional office in nearly 30 years. We received substantially more total votes than any Republican candidate for constitutional office in Minnesota’s history. We carried 76 of Minnesota’s 87 counties. We didn’t quite get there, but we have a lot to be proud of,” he said in a statement.
Ellison, a former Democratic congressman and civil rights attorney from Minneapolis, became the first Black person elected to a constitutional office in Minnesota four years ago. He landed in the national spotlight as he oversaw the prosecution of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.
In the aftermath of Floyd’s murder, as Minneapolis voters rethought public safety, Ellison supported a ballot amendment to replace the police department with a new public safety agency.
Schultz latched on to that, saying Ellison has a long history of “demonizing” police and airing TV ads saying Ellison wants to defund law enforcement. Ellison disputed the characterization, saying he opposes defunding police.
Nonetheless, Schultz secured support from the state’s largest police association and many sheriffs. He continued receiving additional police organization endorsements over the past week.
Ellison highlighted his endorsements from some county attorneys and had Democratic allies working to help his chances. State legislators have been knocking on doors on his behalf, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was featured in a recent ad for him, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders visited Minnesota to urge voters to turn out for Ellison and former President Barack Obama endorsed him over the weekend.
At events and in ads, Ellison and his supporters have emphasized that he would protect abortion access in Minnesota following the fall of Roe v. Wade and said Schultz would not.
“I will protect your right to choose. He will attack it,” Ellison said as he made his closing argument to voters during a recent debate hosted by MPR News.
Schultz has repeatedly said he is “pro-life,” but that he would not use the Attorney General’s Office for abortion politics.
St. Cloud voter Kristi Happel Christian said Tuesday that she appreciated Ellison’s stance on abortion following the fall of Roe.
“We need people like that standing up for women,” she said.
For Ommund Skaar of Bloomington, who was voting at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, it was a difficult choice.
“I’m not particularly fond of either attorney general candidate,” Skaar said. “I went for Schultz, though he might be a little political for me.”
Headed into Election Day, Minnesota’s attorney general battle continued to draw national attention and dollars as polls showed a tight race, or Schultz leading Ellison. Finance reports from late October show campaigns and political committees have channeled at least $8.6 million into the race.
The two candidates have spent months presenting their contrasting backgrounds and visions for the role of Minnesota’s chief legal officer.
Schultz, 37, is making his first foray into politics. He is a Harvard Law School graduate who most recently worked as an attorney for the Minneapolis-based hedge fund Värde Partners. He said he was compelled to run for office after he felt like he was “losing the state” he grew up in.
The GOP candidate wants to reorganize the Attorney General’s Office, shifting some of the staff currently focused on regulatory compliance and other issues to the criminal division. He has said some of Ellison’s lawsuits against companies have amounted to harassment, such as his suit arguing fossil fuel firms deceived the public on climate change.
Ellison, meanwhile, has highlighted his consumer protection work as attorney general, emphasizing efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies, bad landlords, pandemic profiteers and others accountable. He has condemned Schultz’s lack of courtroom experience and said the Republican doesn’t understand the work of the attorney general’s office, which has numerous roles and generally only gets involved in criminal cases when county attorneys request help.
Before running for attorney general four years ago, Ellison, 59, spent 12 years representing Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District and was deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. He previously served as a state legislator.
Staff writers Kyeland Jackson, Jenny Berg and John Reinan contributed to this report.
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