One day after a Muslim state representative, Keith Ellison, captured the Democratic nomination for Congress, his Republican opponent on Wednesday unleashed an attack on Ellison's past ties with Louis Farrakhan.
Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, has a history of harshly criticizing Jews.
Business professor Alan Fine, who's running an uphill race in Minnesota's bluest district, compared Ellison with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, emphasizing the black Democrat's Muslim background with a series of pen names formerly used by Ellison.
"I'm extremely concerned about Keith Ellison. Keith Hakim. Keith X Ellison. Keith Ellison Muhammad," Fine, who is Jewish, said at a Capitol news conference. "I'm personally offended that this person is a candidate for U.S. Congress. He is unfit to represent the voters of the 5th District."
Fine added, "His selection is an embarrassment to our district, our state, our country and our world."
Ellison — who spent months explaining a mid-1990s association with Farrakhan's Nation of Islam during the primary contest — said in a statement that Fine's remarks weren't worth a response.
"To engage them is to be sullied by them," said Ellison, a 43-year-old criminal defense attorney who converted to Islam as a college student.
His statement added, "I intend to continue reaching out to the marginalized, to the disenfranchised, the dispossessed and inviting them in, to join us as we take our country back from those who would pander to our worst fears."
Fine's attack could backfire in a Minneapolis-area district where Democrats typically win by lopsided margins, said Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political scientist. He noted that even in a competitive primary, Ellison's DFL opponents handled the issue gingerly.
"I'm just not sure how that's going to play with many voters in the 5th Congressional District," Jacobs said. "I think this is a risky proposition."
But all the attention lavished on the liberal Ellison could work against other Democrats such as U.S. Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar and gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch, raising fresh doubts in the minds of moderate voters, Jacobs said.
Indeed, state GOP Chairman Ron Carey was eager to tie DFL congressional candidates Patty Wetterling and Coleen Rowley to Ellison, who wants to pull U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and create a universal health care system.
But Minnesota DFL Chairman Brian Melendez said Ellison won't hurt the party's other candidates. He condemned Fine's attack, saying it was racist.
"He'll probably pick up the pigheaded fool vote but hopefully there aren't too many of them," Melendez said.
According to Fine, most of the Jewish community won't support Ellison despite high-profile endorsements from some Jewish political leaders and a local Jewish newspaper.
Ellison's reception in the Jewish community has been mixed, said Julie Swiler, public affairs director for the Minneapolis-based Jewish Community Relations Council. When he explained his past in a letter to that organization, some accepted the explanation and others rejected it.
For those who weren't satisfied with Ellison's accounting, the Nation of Islam connection remains an issue, she said.
Meanwhile, Independence Party candidate Tammy Lee stayed away from Ellison's background Thursday when she positioned herself as the business-friendly alternative and discounted Fine's chances.
By Martiga Lohn, Associated Press Writer
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)