Minneapolis, Minnesota is known for the likes of Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey. Rightfully so. So if I told you that a district who has an open seat to the House because of the retirement of a Norwegian-American congressman, was ready to make history, would you believe it?
History could be made by one of the most liberal states in the nation getting ready to elect its' first African-American representative. And not only that, he's Muslim.
How did this come about?
Keith Ellison is a father of four, an attorney, and a state representative. He grew up in Detroit as a Roman catholic. But at 19, he moved to Minnesota and converted to the Muslim faith. You can find him religiously (sorry for the pun) praying 5 times daily, even in the rigors of a political campaign. On any given weekend he could be found in a neighborhood synagogue, at mass, worship at the local church or even a mosque. He will go just about anywhere to find a vote.
The fifth district is pegged as one of the most liberal district in the country and Ellison won the primary be being the most liberal of the field. And he tapped a resource overlooked by almost everyone. He tapped "his own folks". The Muslim community helped give Ellison the votes he needed to win the primary.
But the general election is a different thing, or is it? Being one of the most liberal districts in the nation won't hurt. Will it be enough? Can a Muslim really be elected to the House?
Ellison is not running as a Muslim, of course but he is not running away from it. My first visit to his website (www.keithellison.org) had a front page story about Ramadan. This weekend it is still on the front page but slipped down toward the bottom. He talks about his progressive politics and his list of endorsements is pretty impressive, if you are a liberal. Representatives Jesse Jackson, Jr., Dennis Kucinich, Charles Rangel, Maxine Waters are just a few listed.
Organizations such as Sierra Club, American Federation of Teachers, NARAL Pro-Choice America, AFL-CIO and United Auto Workers have lined up behind Ellison as you would expect of any Democrat but would you have expected the American Jewish World?
It will be interesting to see if Ellison becomes the first Muslim in the House. But it seems as though the key for the campaign is that he is first the Democratic candidate and his choice of religion is not front and center of his campaign. He doesn't hide it but he also doesn't promote himself as a Muslim candidate.
Maybe that is the right balance for folks to take. Don't stick your faith out in front. Don't hide it either. Speak to the issues and practice your faith walk but ask folks to vote based on your positions on the issues. After all, you are running for political office not a position on the church board. Or should I say the governing authority of the Mosque?