ATLANTA (AP) — Democrats are beginning the process of rebuilding their party by choosing a new national chairman charged with turning widespread opposition to President Donald Trump into more election victories.
With the outcome of Saturday’s vote uncertain, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison made a final push Friday to cajole support from the hundreds of state party leaders, donors and activists who make up the Democratic National Committee and determine the party’s direction.
Perez supporters say he’s on the cusp of the required majority. Ellison maintains that he is still a viable candidate. A handful of other candidates are holding out hope that neither Ellison nor Perez can command a majority, opening up the race for an upset in later rounds of voting.
Each of the front-runners promises an aggressive counter to the Trump administration, while rebuilding a depleted organization at the state and local level — a tacit admission that party infrastructure withered during Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House, despite the president’s personal electoral success. The results have shown: Republicans now control the White House, Capitol Hill and nearly two-thirds of state legislatures and governorships.
“We are fighting for a party that is not the status quo,” Ellison told his supporters late Friday, arguing that Democrats have become too timid and lost touch with too many voters across much of the country by abandoning working people. The key, he said, is too “knock on doors and engage people” while pushing policies that benefit them. “Let’s have a debate it,” he said. “You’re not scared. I’m not scared. Let’s do it.”
At a nearby reception, Perez said the party must be the center of Trump resistance.
“The most important word in a democracy is that simple two-letter: ‘We,’” he said, promising he would help Democrats capitalize on the budding opposition movement. “It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we have strong parties everywhere that allow us to put those values into action,” he said.
Perez got into the race at Obama’s urging, but he has pushed back on the notion that represents the same “establishment” label that dogged Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Ellison has endorsements from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who challenged Clinton for the Democratic nomination. But he has the endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Ellison also brought in New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin to glad-hand DNC members Friday. Former DNC leader Howard Dean, widely hailed as a successful party chair, worked the hallways on behalf of a third candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.
Clinton has stayed out of the DNC contest, but she made a video appearance at the party gathering Friday.
“Let resistance plus persistence equal progress for our party and our country,” she said, praising the Jan. 21 women’s marches across the country and other signs of public criticism of Trump. She also indirectly noted her popular vote victory, which Trump has insisted was not legitimate. “Nearly 66 million votes,” she said, “are fueling grassroots energy and activism.”