Minnesota Candidate Aims to Become First Muslim in Congress

A state lawmaker could become the first Muslim elected to Congress after edging out three rivals Tuesday for his district's Democratic nomination.

Keith Ellison, 43, prevailed after overcoming questions about parking tickets, overdue taxes and his ties to the Nation of Islam. Because the district has long been dominated by Democrats, he will be a heavy favorite to win the Minneapolis-area seat in November.

Ellison courted the liberal wing of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party by comparing himself to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone — and many voters responded. Others relished the chance to elect a minority to Congress from Minnesota for the first time; Ellison is black.

"We came together, all colors, all faiths, all of us," a jubilant Ellison said. "We said from the very beginning this campaign is about everybody counts."

The retirement of U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo after 28 years opened a competitive DFL primary contest in Minnesota's most Democratic district. The race included Sabo's former chief of staff, Mike Erlandson; former state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge; and Minneapolis City Council member Paul Ostrow.

Ellison got the DFL endorsement in May. But he quickly ran into difficulty after reports of overdue parking tickets, late campaign finance reports and unpaid taxes. He also faced questions about anti-Semitism because of his past ties with the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim group led by the confrontational Louis Farrakhan.

Ellison, a criminal defense attorney who converted to Islam as a college student, has since denounced Farrakhan and been endorsed by a Minneapolis Jewish newspaper. He has also pledged to improve his record-keeping.