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Crime is top of mind for Republicans going after the Attorney General's office

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Minnesota's attorney general, Keith Ellison, faces a vote for reelection this fall. He's one of the nation's highest profile attorneys general. And one way to speak of the divide in the voting is between people who focus on the murder of George Floyd and the issues that raised and people who focus on other crimes. Here's Minnesota Public Radio's Dana Ferguson.

DANA FERGUSON, BYLINE: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison won his seat in 2018. Now the Democrat is running for a second term. On the campaign trail, he works to emphasize his successful efforts suing companies that price gouged during the pandemic and forging settlements with opioid manufacturers that brought millions of dollars to Minnesota for treatment.

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KEITH ELLISON: As your attorney general, I worked every day to uplift people - to help you afford your life and live with dignity, safety and respect.

FERGUSON: The attorney general's office doesn't typically investigate violent crimes, but it can step in to prosecute local cases. Ellison likes to point out he's won all the cases that have been handed to him, most notably the prosecution of former police officer Derek Chauvin in George Floyd's murder. Even so, the former congressman is in a close race with Republican Jim Schultz, a former corporate attorney who is new to politics. His focus is on public safety. Schultz says Ellison hasn't done enough to address an alarming rise in crime in Minneapolis.

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JIM SCHULTZ: What I call these past few years is a man-made disaster because it didn't have to be this way. We could have embraced sensible policies that address the extraordinary crime that is crippling communities, taking lives, damaging lives.

FERGUSON: Several states have tracked upticks in violent crime amid the pandemic. In Minnesota, violent crime jumped by 21% last year compared to 2020. The Schultz campaign and groups supporting him have plastered airwaves with ads tying Ellison to violence.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: This is a call from an inmate at a Minnesota correctional facility. Press one to accept.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: Hey. I want you to know why the inmates are supporting Attorney General Keith Ellison.

FERGUSON: Some videos show the mayhem that broke out in the Twin Cities following the murder of George Floyd. Others flashed scenes of carjackings, robberies and brutal fights. All include photos of Ellison. And a narrator says the attorney general has helped fuel the lawlessness.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: Keith Ellison wants to dismantle the police with murders at an all-time high in the Twin Cities.

FERGUSON: Critics charge the ads have racist overtones. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has filed complaints against Schultz's campaign and independent groups that placed the ads. A review by the state's campaign finance board is ongoing. University of Minnesota professor Larry Jacobs says the ads exaggerate Ellison's positions, but are still influential.

LARRY JACOBS: I think those images - those shocking images of rioting in Minneapolis and crime are registering in the minds of the voters who are up for grabs.

FERGUSON: Police groups and sheriffs who support Schultz are critical of Ellison's decision to back a failed effort to create a new public safety agency. Meanwhile, county prosecutors have endorsed Ellison and community leaders in neighborhoods hit hardest by violent crime say Ellison was the one who asked them how he could help. For more than five decades, Minnesota's attorney general has been a Democrat. Voters will decide Tuesday whether the shadow of the turmoil that came after Floyd's murder and the fight over crime and policing will change that. For NPR News, I'm Dana Ferguson in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF YELLOW LIME, ET AL.'S "OBRIGADA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.