On the latest episode of Keepin’ It 1600, Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, and Jon Lovett spoke with Representative Keith Ellison. Currently representing the fifth district of Minnesota, Ellison is a candidate to become the next DNC chairman. He is black and Muslim. In the two weeks since he entered this race, many have questioned whether his race and religious background could hurt his candidacy. Ellison joined the podcast to address these questions directly and explain why he can steer the Democrats during Donald Trump’s presidency.
You can listen to the full episode here. This transcript has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Tommy Vietor: I want to touch on the elephant in the room. I think a lot of people are asking: Are you the person who can connect with the white, working class voters that we lost this cycle? Do you really think you can reach these people with a weird name like Keith?
Keith Ellison: Yeah, it’s really bizarre. (Laughs.)
T.V.: Sorry, I just think that’s the dumbest question in the world after Barack Obama won two times.
K.E.: But I’m glad you asked it, because I’d like people to know that the fifth congressional district of Minnesota is [close to] three-fourths white. Three-fourths. I win with 70 percent of the vote on the regular. Most of those people, they don’t have college degrees. Most of ’em go to work in flannel, and some of ’em in work boots, and some of ’em in uniforms, you know what I mean? They go to work with work belts around their waists, and they’re smart, and they know what’s in their own best interests. They think that voting for me is, because they’ve done it now six times. They got other choices because we got a lot of great political talent here in Minnesota.
You’ve got the Carrier plant looking to close and reopen in Mexico, and then sell air conditioners back to the United States. Nabisco, closing down and going to Mexico, laying off 600 people. I could name many, many others. When that happens to you, when you get that pink slip, that freaks you out in terms of your retirement, your hopes for your kids, and I think when that happens to you, you may not vote at all, or you might even vote for Trump.
It’s not so much what that person may have said or what color [he is]. Those things may not be nearly as important as your calculation that something big has got to change because the status quo is not going right. I think that’s what we’ve got to focus on. I think that we’ve got to focus on the fact that there are people in dire straits across our country that are desperately in need of our help.
The Democratic Party should not exist for Democrats. It exists for Americans. It exists for all of us, and we’ve got to be an agent of change. We’ve got to be on that person’s side, because the rich folks got a party that stands for them not having to pay taxes, not having to obey by government regulations, not having to worry about the common welfare. The American people need a party to say, “We’re on your side and willing to kick down doors for you.” That’s what needed in this moment, and I think that even though I’m black and I’m Muslim, people in my district vote for me because that is nowhere near as important as the fact that I actually care about them.