Three top Democrats running to succeed Rep. Keith Ellison in Minnesota’s 5th District responded cautiously Monday to allegations that he abused a former girlfriend in 2016.
The candidates did not say whether they believed the allegations against the six-term Democratic lawmaker, who has denied that the long-term relationship included physical abuse. They also did not call for him to resign or drop out of his current race for state attorney general.
Ilhan Omar, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party-endorsed candidate and a freshman Minnesota state representative, did not comment directly on the allegations Monday, saying she was reserving her opinions out of respect for Karen Monahan, the accuser.
“I think for us right now it is really important for us not to politicize the pain of what she’s going through, and I want to make sure that we’re giving her time to really take care of herself and care for her health,” Omar said. “So I will reserve my opinions until I’m certain that she is in a good place to really advocate and speak on her behalf.”
Tuesday features a number of competitive primaries across the state, and the winner of the 5th District Democratic primary will be heavily favored in November. Hillary Clinton carried the seat by 55 points in 2016 and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election Solid Democratic.
State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, another candidate, said it was “difficult” to hear about the allegations against Ellison, whom she has known for about 16 years.
“I want to reserve comments right now. I want to see what else is going to come next,” she said. “Clearly, it is very difficult to hear Karen Monahan describing what she is describing and I take that very seriously. And for me, right now, because this is a serious issue, I need to pause and just take some time to really see what’s coming next.”
Former state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who is also seeking the 5th District DFL nomination, called the allegations a “very painful situation.”
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“I think the pain of domestic violence, the pain of power imbalance can be very difficult for people,” Kelliher said. “We need more information in this situation, and the hardest part of this is we have an election tomorrow where Keith’s name is on the ballot, and we’re not going to be able to resolve all the issues around this because of the pain that Karen is feeling.”
Kelliher added that there is “a lot left to understand in this situation.”
Monahan’s son wrote in a Facebook post Saturday that the congressman physically and verbally abused his mother during their relationship, which ended in 2016. Monahan confirmed the account of the incident on Twitter. Ellison denied the allegations in a statement Sunday, while confirming he had a relationship with Monahan.
The candidates’ responses came at a Monday candidates forum hosted by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Pressed again by the event’s moderator, who noted the national women’s group UltraViolet had called for Ellison to resign from Congress and drop out of his race for attorney general, the candidates held back.
“My previous statements are very clear,” Omar said, asked whether she agreed with the calls for Ellison to resign and withdraw from the race. “I want to respect whatever it is that Karen and her children and the families would want the outcome to be and how they would like to proceed.”
The moderator also asked Torres Ray and Kelliher whether their “unwillingness to take a stand on this” could be perceived as condoning sexual abuse.
“I’m quite concerned about domestic violence and power imbalance in this situation,” Kelliher said. “The problem is we’re not going to be able to resolve it in the next 24 hours in any way that’s going to make any party be able to get more of the information out there.”
Torres Ray said she supported the calls from women’s organizations insofar as they prompted an immediate response to the allegations. But she again called for a “pause” on addressing the allegations.