Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison faced a tight reelection race but won his contest, called Wednesday by the Associated Press, in a campaign that focused heavily on public safety.
His victory continues a high-profile tenure as the state’s top legal officer, during which he has led the prosecution of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and pushed for police reform.
Ellison, whose campaign highlighted abortion rights, affordable housing and other issues, narrowly defeated his Republican opponent, Jim Schultz, a hedge fund attorney whom Democrats had criticized for having no courtroom experience. Schultz would have become the first Republican to win Minnesota’s attorney general race since the 1960s had he unseated Ellison, but he lost by less than 1% with about 2.5 million votes counted.
“Millions of dollars were spent to sow division, hate and fear,” Ellison said in a statement published by the AP. “And we overcame it: We were positive, and Minnesotans responded."
Schultz, who conceded the race, also released a statement: “The results are now clear, and I plan to call Attorney General Ellison later today to congratulate him on his reelection.”
Ellison was hardly a shoo-in for reelection, as polling showed he faced an uphill battle, not unlike the one he faced four years ago.
A joint poll from Twin Cities-area TV station KSTP and SurveyUSA saw Schultz ahead of Ellison a week before the election, 49% to 42%. Ellison had led by 6 points in September and by 2 points in early October, according to the poll.
Despite Ellison’s successful prosecutions of nationally recognized criminal cases, his opponent hammered him on a key issue in the midterm elections: violent crime. Ellison, who is known for his progressive ideology, faced criticism over several initiatives he supported.
Like many Republican candidates seeking office across the country, Schultz emphasized the issue of public safety throughout his campaign and what he and others have described as Democrats’ weak policies on crime, painting Ellison’s positions as extreme. He also accused Ellison of supporting the defunding of police.
During their debate in October, Schultz levied attacks on Ellison’s record, saying Ellison had failed to keep Minnesota residents safe. “It is immoral to embrace policies that have led to the extraordinary violent crime in our communities,” Schultz said.
Ellison countered that he had never supported cutting police budgets and said he had in fact sought millions of dollars to fight crime. “If I’m supposed to be this ‘defunder,’ I must be the worst one ever, because I am seeking more resources for law enforcement,” he said.
Last year, Ellison, as well as U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who also won reelection on Tuesday, supported a Minneapolis charter amendment that would have replaced the police department with a department of public safety that would serve as “a comprehensive public health approach.”
Several prominent Democrats and Republicans heavily opposed the measure, which drew national attention. Minnesota voters rejected it despite fierce criticism toward Minneapolis police amid a spate of police killings in the state and country.
Though he already had a national profile before the Chauvin trial, Ellison gained greater prominence after leading the team that prosecuted the police officer, who was convicted of second-degree murder and other charges for kneeling on Floyd for more than nine minutes during an arrest on May 25, 2020, while Floyd cried out that he couldn’t breathe. Three other officers were charged in connection with Floyd’s death, two of whom pleaded guilty.
Ellison also prosecuted the case of Kimberly Potter, a former Brooklyn Center, Minn., police officer who was convicted of first-degree manslaughter for shooting and killing motorist Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in 2021. Potter claimed she had mistaken her Taser for a gun.
Ellison broke ground as the first Black person elected to partisan statewide office in Minnesota and as the first Muslim elected to Congress in 2006. He was also a state legislator and criminal defense attorney before vying to become Minnesota’s top legal official in 2018, when he ran against the criminal justice policies of then-President Donald Trump.
Schultz, a political newcomer, won Minnesota’s Republican primary in August, defeating candidate Doug Wardlow, who also ran unsuccessfully for Minnesota attorney general in 2018.