MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Days after a poll showed Keith Ellison trailing in the race for attorney general following allegations of domestic abuse against him, the Democrat went on the offensive against Republican Doug Wardlow on Thursday, saying his opponent’s work for a conservative Christian legal advocacy group against gay rights shows that he has an agenda of discrimination.
Ellison issued a statement pointing out that President Donald Trump’s administration told the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday that a federal appeals court got the law wrong when it ruled last year against a Michigan funeral home that fired a transgender worker who was transitioning from male to female and wanted to dress as a woman. Wardlow argued that case before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared that her firing was illegal.
“On Nov. 7, I don’t want people to wake up to the reality of Doug Wardlow. They need to wake up to it now, what he stands for now,” Ellison told reporters.
The six-term congressman’s counterattack came in the wake of a Star Tribune/Minnesota Public Radio poll this week that gave Wardlow a slight lead for an office that no Minnesota Republican has won since 1966. After that survey came out, Ellison said he would work to refocus his campaign on what he considers the real issues, rather than the domestic abuse allegations that have cast a cloud over his candidacy.
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Ellison’s news release also included statements from three Democratic transgender, lesbian and gay elected officials who urged voters to reject Wardlow as too extreme.
Wardlow’s campaign manager, Billy Grant, dismissed the barrage.
“Another day, another baseless and desperate attack from a failing campaign,” he said in a statement. “Doug Wardlow is committed to defending and protecting all Minnesotans. The most recent polls show that Republicans, Democrats and Independents are rejecting Extreme Keith Ellison’s candidacy.”
Before he entered the attorney general’s race, Wardlow, a former state representative, was an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom. In the Michigan case. He argued that the funeral home owners had the right to act in accordance with their sincerely held religious convictions by requiring employees to dress in a manner that the owners considered sensitive to grieving families.
Minnesota Democrats last week released audio from a Wardlow speech to a tea party gathering in 2013 in which he said America, its constitution and institutions had fallen because its “second, unwritten constitution has been all but destroyed.” He described this unwritten constitution as “the one that animates, or animated, our written constitution and enabled the rule of law and liberty.”
In that speech, according to the Star Tribune, Wardlow also said: “You cannot have liberty without strong families. You cannot have liberty with marriage redefined to include homosexual marriage.”
Ellison has denied domestic abuse allegations that came from an ex-girlfriend who said that he dragged her out of bed during an argument. An investigation commissioned by Democratic leaders concluded that her claims couldn’t be substantiated, though Wardlow has called that a whitewash, noting that the attorney who prepared the report has party connections through her firm.
Ellison has dismissed as a farce Wardlow’s claims that he’s “not going to use the office for political purposes or to push a political agenda.” Ellison himself has made clear that he intends to push his activist progressive agenda if he wins. And Ellison has continually expressed frustration that their drastic differences — and backgrounds as lawmakers — have been drowned out by the allegations against him.
“I think it is critically important … that we actually look at what I would do as attorney general and what Doug Wardlow would do as attorney general,” Ellison told reporters.
Associated Press reporter Kyle Potter contributed to this story from St. Paul.