Keith Ellison, the progressive congressman and deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, is exploring a run for Minnesota attorney general, according to four people he’s discussed the possibility with.
Lori Swanson, the current attorney general, is expected to run for governor, leaving the race open.
With his active organizing and fundraising base — amplified through his close alliance with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — Ellison would likely scramble a field of lesser known candidates that’s begun to take shape.
Ellison did not respond to efforts to reach him directly, and a spokesman declined comment.
First elected to Congress in 2006, Ellison has grown listless and bored in the House, according to multiple people who’ve spoken with him in recent months. He’s still far from even being a ranking member on a subcommittee, and Democratic prospects of retaking the majority in the House soon remain uphill.
Ellison has also told friends about chafing at being the number two at the DNC, occasionally clashing with Tom Perez, who beat him for the top spot before appointing him to his current position. More often he expresses frustration at not being able to set the direction for the official party apparatus, according to several who’ve spoken to him.
The job could give Ellison a prominent spot alongside other state attorneys general who’ve taken the lead in fighting the Trump administration — efforts that many Minnesota Democrats wanted Swanson to be more active in.
In the fall, he reached out to the Democratic Attorneys General Association, the D.C.-based group supporting campaigns, and had already caught the eye of DAGA co-chair Karl Racine, the D.C. attorney general.
Though Ellison has indicated to several people close to him in recent days that he’s less likely to run, he finds the idea enticing.
An attorney who before getting into politics led a non-profit specializing in defending the poor and later in private practice, Ellison had been having conversations about running for attorney general for the better part of a year, but they were put on pause in December after Sen. Al Franken announced his resignation.
Ellison wanted to run for the Senate seat, and was annoyed when party leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) encouraged Franken’s appointed replacement, Tina Smith, to reverse course and run for re-election in November, blocking his path.
He began reaching out again about the attorney general race in late December.
“I support him in whatever he wants to do and where he can help the most people,” said Ken Martin, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor party chair and a friend. “I know Keith wants to do more and really roll up his sleeves in the next election.”
The first unofficial deadline for statewide candidates is the Feb. 6 Minnesota precinct caucuses. But the window for Ellison to get in could be extended if Swanson, whose office is currently in the middle of a major case against 3M and who is not seen as likely to do well in the straw poll that day, decides to put off announcing her gubernatorial campaign. People familiar with the political dynamics expect that there would likely be a week or two after Swanson’s announcement for candidates to announce.
Had Ellison announced a run six months ago, several who are paying close attention to the race say, he likely could have cleared the Democratic field. Now they’re not so sure, and see him as likely to face at least some opposition, with state Rep. Debra Hilstrom and former state Rep. Ryan Winkler currently expected to run.
If Ellison ran and won, he knows he would probably have to give up his spot at the DNC.
Despite butting heads with Perez—“he’s the chair, I get that. He’s playing quarterback. I’m playing wide receiver or something,” Ellison said in an interview earlier this month — he feels like the job does give him an important role in shaping the direction of the party going forward.
The Minnesota DFL’s endorsing convention is in June.