DENVER — Reeling from their election losses, Democrats will hold their first audition for a new Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman at a gathering here on Friday.
The announced candidates — Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, New Hampshire Chairman Raymond Buckley and South Carolina Chairman Jaime Harrison — will make their pitch to state party leaders at the Association of State Democratic Chairs.
Ellison, who is promising to build the “50 state strategy” Dean employed during his chairmanship with a “3,143 county strategy” of his own, is the early front-runner, racking up endorsements from Washington lawmakers and national labor groups.
But he is expected to face a stiff challenge from Dean, who still has huge reservoirs of goodwill from his stint atop the party in the 2000s.
Click Here: new zealand all blacks jersey Several other buzz-worthy names might still join the race, including Labor Secretary Tom Perez — a favorite in Obama World — and NARAL President Ilyse Hoge, who this week received the backing of influential liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos. Moulitsas also writes a column for The Hill.
Many of those attending the meeting in Denver are deeply frustrated and haven’t made up their minds over who to support.
“This isn’t a cinch for anyone right now,” said Peter Corroon, the state Democratic chairman of Utah and first cousin of Dean. “It’s a wide open field.”
Many think the DNC under the leadership of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) failed to provide adequate support and treated state parties like ATMs, making the rounds every four years to ask for money and support for national elections.
The group was instrumental in selecting Dean as chairman the last time Democrats had to elect a party leader in 2004, when he was picked in a straw poll.
It includes 112 state chairs and vice chairs, and approximately 200 elected local officials below them. They make up the majority of the 447 DNC members who will cast ballots in the February election. Some state parties are coordinating to vote as a bloc, seeking to maximize their impact on the election.
Ellison has sprinted out to an early lead, helped by endorsements from Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid says he’s cancer free White House gets jolt from strong jobs report Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump MORE (D-Nev.) and Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: US showing signs of retreat in battle against COVID-19 | Regeneron begins clinical trials of potential coronavirus antibody treatment | CMS warns nursing homes against seizing residents’ stimulus checks Schumer requests briefing with White House coronavirus task force as cases rise Schumer on Trump’s tweet about 75-year-old protester: He ‘should go back to hiding in the bunker’ MORE (D-N.Y.), lavish media attention and support from labor unions.
He’s also facing scrutiny over his past remarks — some of which have been publicized by conservative news outlets.
When Ellison was at the University of Minnesota’s law school, he wrote under a pen name calling for reparations and a separate black nation. The first Muslim elected to Congress, Ellision has renounced his past praise for the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan.
“Those stories were tongue in cheek when I wrote them. It was over 26 years ago,” he told Minnesota Public Radio this week. “People are going to try and dig up stuff to undermine my candidacy, but we’ve all been on a life journey and have hopefully learned something over the past quarter century, and I have too.”
Others are concerned that Democrats are moving too quickly toward the party’s ascendant left wing after Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE’s loss in the presidential election. They fear chasing away centrists, independents and white working-class voters.
“We didn’t lose because we weren’t progressive enough,” one Democrat told The Hill.
Ellison’s biggest hurdle might be convincing skeptical DNC members that he can rebuild the party while keeping a day job in Congress. Skeptics say a DNC chair responsible for fundraising, managing campaigns and being the public face of the party is a full-time job.
Some are even suggesting that the DNC elect co-chairs — one to handle daily operations, and one to act as the party’s national spokesperson.
Dean, who served as DNC chair from 2005 to 2009 and is credited by many for laying the groundwork for Democratic gains in that era, has sought to make an issue of Ellision’s day job.
The onetime presidential candidate jumped into the race right away but has faced questions about his commitment to seeing it through. Dean appears to have little appetite for engaging in a fierce campaign over the future of the party, particularly if it turns into another referendum between the Clinton and Sanders wings of the party.
“This is not something I’m going to push people out of the way for,” he said on MSNBC in November.
Dean will not appear at the ASDC forum, but rather will send in a video message.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in an email to members that all of the announced candidates except for Dean had asked for his endorsement.
And DNC members interviewed by The Hill say he hasn’t waged the same kind of behind-the-scenes campaign that some of the other candidates have.
An email to Dean’s spokesperson has not been returned.
Beyond Dean and Ellison, there are several other candidates and potential candidates with the potential to disrupt the race.
Buckley, the New Hampshire chairman, is an institutional Democrat and a prolific fundraiser. As president of the ASDC, he has a strong connection to its influential members and remains well-regarded for helping Dean to implement the party’s “50 state strategy.”
However, as a 56-year-old white man, he could be viewed by some as the party’s past, at a time when many want to make a statement about Democratic diversity in the era of President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE.
“We don’t need white people leading the Democratic party right now,” former Sanders spokeswoman Symone Sanders said in an interview last month on CNN.
Harrison, the South Carolina DNC chair, is a younger African-American who got a huge boost this week when his former boss, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), endorsed him and urged DNC members to make him the next chairman.
However, Harrison has struggled to answer for his stint at the Podesta Group, a Washington lobbying firm founded by Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and his brother. It is a bad time to be associated with Clinton-era special interests.
And critics say Harrison has nothing to show for his time atop the South Carolina party except for mounting electoral losses to Republicans.
Perez, the Labor secretary, is being pushed by some in President Obama’s orbit to run, but could also be weighing a run for Maryland governor in 2018.
Hogue, the president of NARAL, is the only woman considering joining the race.
Henry Munoz III, the DNC’s finance chairman, is also weighing a bid.