When Rep. Martin Sabo announced he wouldn’t run again after 28 years in Congress, Keith Ellison emerged as the front-runner by winning the DFL Party endorsement in a district that is solidly Democratic.

Ellison, a state legislator from north Minneapolis, won the endorsement in May by successfully tapping into the base of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. Ellison laid claim to being “the progressive” in the race — aggressively promoting labor and union issues and the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

It is no accident that Ellison T-shirts are the same shade of spruce green as the T-shirts worn by Wellstone supporters.

“I am going to speak up for peace. I’m going to speak up and be able to challenge the drug companies and pharmaceutical companies and demand economic justice for people, the union movement and the right to organize,” Ellison said. “Republican-lite has failed us as Democrats. I believe progressive values are better.”

But Ellison’s campaign barely got going before issues arose about disarray in his personal life.

Many of them came up because he became the prime target of bloggers and anonymous e-mailers. Ellison was hit by revelations of dozens of unpaid parking tickets.

Fines for late campaign finance report filings and a tax lien against his house became issues. Also, questions were raised about his ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, because Ellison was involved with the group for about 18 months in the mid-1990s.

Ellison, who turned 43 this month, said the problems are behind him. “I’m an organized person. I’m a lawyer; I’m a good one. I’m a good husband. I’m a good father. I will have my act tight. I have learned the lesson of making sure my personal affairs are in order so I can stay focused on the people’s business,” he said.

If he wins the primary and is elected in November, Ellison would become the first Muslim elected to Congress and the first black elected to Congress from Minnesota.


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