A competitive campaign for leadership of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is coming into focus as official and unofficial contenders outline their qualifications to chair the embattled organization and redefine the party after devastating Election Day losses.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), South Carolina Democratic Party chair Jaime Harrison, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who chaired the DNC from 2005 to 2009, have all formally announced they are running for the party’s top job. Other candidates are likely to join the race as a growing list vies to lead the party in the wake of President-elect Trump’s victory, continued Republican control of the U.S. Congress, and GOP dominance in state legislatures.
Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, emerged as an early frontrunner in the DNC race, drawing support from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the failed Democratic presidential candidate who returned to the Senate as an independent after the election, along with many high-profile congressional Democrats. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the incoming minority leader in the 115th Congress, endorsed Ellison, according to news reports.
Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. He backed Sanders through the Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses, later endorsing the party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton.
As co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Ellison could solidify the party’s shift to the left that occurred during the presidential campaign, when Democrats for the first time codified their commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care in the party’s platform. Ellison largely praised the platform for containing “many meaningful and historic positions,” such as calling for voting reforms, ending the death penalty, and strengthening relationships with tribal nations.
“These are significant accomplishments that move our party firmly toward justice, fairness, and inclusion,” he said in a statement at the time.
But strong initial support for Ellison pits the West Wing against the party’s left wing, according to a New York Times report. The Times reported that the White House is looking for a more mainstream Democrat, suggesting Labor Secretary Tom Perez and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as Obama administration preferences.
The White House’s opposition to Ellison is purportedly rooted in concerns about electing another sitting member of Congress to lead the DNC after the tumultuous tenure of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).
Wasserman Schultz resigned as chair of the DNC in July amid controversy over leaked internal party emails and months of criticism over her handling of the Democratic primary race. She had retreated from her opposition to the Obama administration’s payday loan protections a month earlier, as she faced increasing criticism of her leadership and a primary challenge from the left.
“Anybody that understands what has to be done right now to rebuild the Democratic Party understands that you can’t do part-time,” DNC candidate Harrison said after he entered the running. “You can’t do quarter-time, you can’t do half-time. It has to be a full-time commitment, or I just don’t see how it works.”
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue has also expressed interest in the position, though she has not formally announced she will run. Hogue shared the story of her abortion at the Democratic National Convention in July. In a blog post Monday outlining ten ideas for the DNC, she emphasized the intersectionality between reproductive rights and other issues as part of her leadership strategy.
“Fighting Wall Street greed and protecting women’s fundamental rights aren’t at odds, they’re intertwined,” Hogue wrote. “Recognizing these intersections will be critical to build momentum from the outset for the hard policy fights and for electoral accountability come mid-terms. Diversity is our strength and must be our aspiration and our future.”
Politico reported that Hogue on Monday sent her strategy to members of the DNC.
DNC members are scheduled to meet and vote on their new chair in February 2017.