Keith Ellison became the first Muslim to serve in the United States Congress and it took some political savvy to do it. Time and time again Ellison has rallied the grassroots and enthused voters on the ground to drive up turnout and keep his seat in congress. This was no small feat, large increases in voter turnout are hard to come by, especially for congressional elections. Keith Ellison is a stunning exception.
Keith Ellison’s first congressional run began in a union hall in May 2006. It was a crowded field, with 9 other candidates, but at the state AFL-CIO convention, Ellison ended up walking away with the union’s endorsement. And in the upper midwest the AFL-CIO’s stamp of approval is a huge deal. Minnesota is union country and this endorsement all but assured Ellison’s victory in the Democratic Party’s primary. Which he would eventually win in September of 2006 with 41% of the vote.
Ellison marched to victory, but it wasn’t an easy feat considering Ellison’s district had one of the lowest voter turnouts in its history that cycle. Far below the average turnout for both Republican and more traditional Democratic Party candidates. Ellison took it upon himself to change that trend and ensure future victory.
Ellison’s key to victory and his strategy to rebuild the Democratic Party focused on building grassroots support and riding enthusiastic volunteers and supporters to winning elections. In Minnesota, Ellison depended on enthusiastic union halls like the one that launched his career, faith communities, and young progressive activists. Ellison proved capable of gathering a diverse base of support, but more importantly he proved capable of getting that base to vote.
By 2008 Ellison raised turn out from well below average to just above. In 2010 turnout was even higher, despite widespread dips for Democrats all across the country. 2012 saw a record high turnout for Ellison and 2014 saw a record high turnout for a midterm, doing so during a period that was particularly rough for Democrats as a whole once again. And in 2016 Ellison saw only a slight decrease in turnout from 2012, a feat few Democratic politicians accomplished.
A vibrant base of grassroots support has proved invaluable for Keith Ellison throughout his career. It has pushed him forward in times where the party as a whole struggled and it has maintained a stable Democratic house seat in a time where that was far from guaranteed. This type of organizing is exactly why Keith Ellison should head the DNC.