Progressives are organizing a final push to get Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) elected as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) ahead of a candidates' debate in Atlanta on Wednesday night and the vote on Saturday.
Ellison has the support of 105 out of 240 DNC members, The Hill reports, putting him ahead of former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has the next-highest amount at 57. The Hill's Ben Kamisar and Owen Eagan note that it's most likely that the vote will head to multiple rounds, taking "as many ballots as needed for a candidate to cobble together a majority," eliminating the lowest-scoring candidates one by one.
The leading candidates' face-off exemplifies the insurgent-versus-establishment battle that has taken over the DNC since the 2016 election, as much of the party's old guard supports Perez over Ellison, while the latter has widespread progressive backing.
Ellison, who is also beloved among younger activists, has picked up the endorsements of a slew of Democratic lawmakers, from Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois to Rep. John Lewis of Georgia to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, as well as Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Perez is endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden and former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Two major things are at stake, according to political journalist Bob Dreyfuss. "First, if Perez beats Ellison, a big chunk of Democrats on the left, including those who backed Sanders in 2016, are going to feel like the party is ignoring them," he wrote this week. "[S]econd, the next chairman of the party will hold the balance, going forward, on the makeup of the DNC Unity Reform Commission."
Party leaders are aware of the tension. As the Wall Street Journal wrote on Wednesday:
Whichever candidate prevails in Atlanta, he will preside over a party that is rapidly being populated by activists partial to the Sanders brand of liberal populism. "A lot of people are concerned that if Keith [Ellison] is not elected, there could be a backlash," said Michelle Deatrick, a former Sanders campaign staffer from Michigan who last year won a seat on the DNC.
The Ellison organizing effort risks a backlash of its own. Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Marcel Groen was annoyed recently when a group tweeted to urge followers to call him to show support for Mr. Ellison. More than 300 calls came in, jamming his line.
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"They are putting an awful lot of pressure on people; it’s over the top," said Mr. Groen, who subsequently endorsed Mr. Perez. "It's counterproductive."
The passion amid the fight reflects a growing eagerness to reform the DNC, as Americans increasingly take to the streets to resist President Donald Trump—and demand their representatives put up a stronger fight.
"We don't need the Democratic party to tell us what to think—we have vibrant and engaged movements out there that are reshaping public opinion every day," 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben wrote at the Guardian on Tuesday. "But we may need the Democratic party for the fairly limited purpose of winning elections and hence consolidating power. What would best serve that utilitarian need?"
"The answer, I think, is pretty clear," he wrote. "Ellison—and by extension the movements he represents—offers the party the items it lacks and needs."
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also endorsed Ellison in an op-ed at the Washington Post, writing, "All over the country, millions of people are getting organized and demonstrating against the president and the broken policies of the Republican Party...The new mission of the Democratic Party must be to harness and build on this energy."
"[B]eyond being right on the issues, Keith knows what Democrats need to do to win," de Blasio wrote.
DNC candidates will also appear for a debate on the future of the Democratic party Wednesday night at 10:00pm EST on CNN. The network has not yet announced which candidates will be appearing.