Ellison enters DNC race as favorite

Ellison enters DNC race as favorite
© Greg Nash

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) launched his bid to become the next Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman on Monday, making him the early favorite to lead the national party through a wholesale restructuring in the wake of a disastrous election cycle.

Ellison represents an emboldened progressive wing of the party that believes Democrats have fallen out of touch with the base and strayed from their core values by nominating Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE for president.

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The Minnesota Democrat begins his pursuit of the chairmanship with the support of liberal icon Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Clip shows Larry David and Bernie Sanders reacting after discovering they're related For now, Trump dossier creates more questions than answers MORE (I-Vt.) and progressive grassroots groups, as well as Senate Democratic leaders Harry ReidHarry ReidChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power Obama's HHS secretary could testify in Menendez trial MORE (Nev.) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (N.Y.).

Still, the decision over who will be the next DNC chairman is only in the early stages, and many liberals believe the party would benefit from a competition.

Democrats were expecting a newly elected President Clinton to appoint a leader in January, but instead will likely gather to vote on the matter some time in February.

Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean has already thrown his hat into the ring. Democrats have praised Dean for his work atop the party in the 2000s, although some view him as a relic from the past at a time when the party is in need of new blood.

The chairman of South Carolina’s Democratic Party, Jaime Harrison, also joined the race late Monday.

Vice President Biden, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Reps. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) and Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Regulation: Trump temporarily lifts Jones Act for Puerto Rico | Bill would exempt some banks from Dodd-Frank | Senators unveil driverless car bill Calif. AG: Trump backs down on greenhouse gas rule Overnight Energy: California cities sue oil giants over climate change MORE (Calif.) and DNC National Finance Chairman Henry Muñoz III are among the other names being bandied about.

The race will serve as a proxy battle over the future of the Democratic Party: The DNC is viewed by many liberals as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the party. 

There is a strong desire to install an up-and-comer willing to rid the organization of the “ossified Washington insiders” that liberals are blaming for last week’s electoral disaster.

“I’m not writing any more checks so that insiders can decide what’s best for the party,” said Dick Harpootlian, a prominent Democratic fundraiser and the former chairman of the state party in South Carolina. 

“The Democratic Party is infested with insiders who are completely disconnected with what’s going on and whose only concern is their own personal interests,” he said. “We need new faces and new ideas, not warmed-over leftovers.”

Many liberals believe it would send a strong message to put Ellison — an African-American and the first Muslim member of Congress — atop the national party in the age of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE, who they view as a divisive figure sowing racial animosity.

Ellison was an early backer of Sanders’s presidential campaign. He is viewed as an effective liberal communicator with a strong connection to the party’s base.

Those are strong selling points at a time when many liberals view the Sanders wing of the party as ascendant. They argue the Vermont independent’s populist, anti-trade message aimed at a disaffected working class was hijacked from them by Trump and represents the way forward. 

“Keith Ellison, that is the exact way to go,” liberal activist Michael Moore said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “That is the future.”

But some are bothered by how quickly party leaders have rallied behind Ellison.

In addition to Sanders, Schumer and Reid, Ellison had the support of Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Murphy faces criticism from GOP challenger over fundraising email Democrat: Republicans who believe in more gun control afraid of being 'politically punished' MORE (Conn.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharFacebook shifts strategy under lawmaker pressure Competition law has no place raising prices some say are ‘too low’ CNN to host town hall featuring Nancy Pelosi MORE (Minn.), Reps. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Mark PocanMark PocanThe Hill's 12:30 Report Another Democrat takes a knee on House floor to support NFL protests Dems celebrate Bannon's exit MORE (Wis.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.), and DNC vice chairman R.T. Rybak before he even announced his bid.

Some Democrats warn that the rush to anoint a successor is exactly what got the party into trouble during the 2016 cycle.

“I love Keith Ellison, but we need a robust debate about the future of the party,” said Chuck Rocha, whose group, Solidarity Strategies, advised the Sanders campaign.

There is also a strong desire to see a Hispanic DNC chairperson. Some liberals are frustrated by what they view as party leaders taking the Hispanic vote for granted, assuming that Latinos would turn out to reject Trump.

“The future of the Democratic Party is the Latino vote,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “I’m hearing from all over, from congressmen and party leaders, that want to see a Hispanic jump in to see what he or she brings to the table.”

“You can’t blame Keith for making a quick run. It’s a smart strategy and you respect that,” Hinojosa said. “But at the same time, a lot of members of leadership would like to see a Latino jump in to see if they might be someone they’d get behind.”

Hinojosa is not backing anyone yet but said he wants to see a strong field of candidates.

There is also fierce debate over whether the DNC chairperson should be a full-time job, rather than one that is done by a sitting lawmaker in conjunction with their duties in Congress.

Former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s job became infinitely more complicated by the fact that she was also an elected official, serving as a Florida representative.

Sanders was so angry at her handling of the election that he actively backed her primary challenger.

“Agnostic as to who, but Dems should pick a full-time party chair,” former Obama adviser David Axelrod tweeted. “The job just became infinitely more demanding and important.”

That’s a case that Dean has made in pushing his own candidacy, although several Democrats interviewed by The Hill worried that he might be viewed as stale.

“He ran a great party and really laid the groundwork for Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAll five living former presidents to attend hurricane relief concert Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Interior moves to delay Obama’s methane leak rule MORE with the 50-state strategy, but do we go back to the same person?” asked Democratic strategist Andrew Feldman. “I’m not sure how forward-looking that is, but unfortunately we don’t have a deep bench.”