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Democrats take sides in race for DNC chair

Democrats take sides in race for DNC chair
© Greg Nash

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has dominated the endorsements game in the race to become the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Ellison has accumulated support from a broad swath of liberals, including key figures from the party’s progressive wing, major labor groups and scores of Capitol Hill lawmakers. 

Still, that won’t be enough to seal the deal for him.

There is little appetite among some rank-and-file Democrats to merely follow the direction of party leaders like retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidFive takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Major overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees MORE (D-Nev.) and his successor, Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.), both of whom are backing Ellison.  

And many of those who have endorsed Ellison are not among the 447 DNC members that will have a vote in the late-February election.

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Most voting DNC members — a majority of whom are state party chairs, vice chairs or other locally elected officials — are keeping their options open ahead of a string of candidate forums in January and February.

Many Democrats believe that despite Ellison’s early momentum, the race is destined to come down to the wire between him and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, whose support from the White House could set up a dynamic similar to the 2016 presidential primary between Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Gabbard considering 2020 run: report Claiming 'spousal privilege' to stonewall Congress MORE, whom Perez supported, and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSanders: Trump setting 'terrible example' for our children Gabbard considering 2020 run: report Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa MORE (I-Vt.), who was backed by Ellison.

Few DNC members have publicly made endorsements, leaving the door open for dark horse candidates like New Hampshire chairman Raymond Buckley, South Carolina chairman Jaime Harrison and Idaho executive director Sally Boynton Brown. It could even help a candidate who hasn’t even entered the race yet, like Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor who is considering a bid.

Here’s a look at who is backing who as the race for DNC chair heats up heading into the new year:

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)

So far, Ellison has run the best organized and most aggressive campaign.

The congressman and his allies are blasting DNC members with emails, working the phones and setting up meetings in an attempt to lock down as many backers as possible.

It has paid off — Democratic sources familiar with the race believe he has close to 70 voting DNC members in his corner, putting him more than a quarter of the way to the 224 votes he’ll need to secure a majority in the 447-member DNC.

But Ellison’s real strength has been in locking down key national figures and groups that will work on his behalf to convince rank-and-file Democrats that he’s the right man for the job.

The Minnesota Democrat will rely heavily on his Capitol Hill colleagues for support.

Among leading progressives, Ellison has Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDNA is irrelevant — Elizabeth Warren is simply not Cherokee The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump seizes on immigrant 'caravan' for midterms | WHCA criticizes Trump for praising lawmaker who assaulted reporter | Trump takes harder line on Saudis Clinton aide: Chances 'highly unlikely' but 'not zero' Hillary will run for president again MORE (D-Mass.), the two biggest stars from the party’s ascendant left wing. Both Reid and Schumer have also endorsed Ellison.

That’s a fearsome group to contend with on its own, but Ellison also has six additional U.S. senators and 25 members of the House in his corner, including Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Maxine Waters (D-Fla.).

Only a handful of these endorsers will have votes, though. That means the state leaders backing Ellison’s bid, including Democratic party chairmen from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Hawaii, Montana and Oklahoma, who will carry significant sway over their delegations, could prove even more important.

Those chairmen are some of the 100 local and state leaders — including dozens of state-level lawmakers — who have thrown their support to Ellison. They are led by the likes of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Ellison has also cut into Perez’s potential base of labor leaders, landing a controversial but significant endorsement from the AFL-CIO, which gave its members the option to either support Ellison or no one.

In addition, former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis — Perez’s predecessor — is backing Ellison, as are the presidents of top labor groups representing teachers, government employees, nurses and postal and communications workers.

Progressive groups like MoveOn.org and Democracy for America — the latter of which was founded by former DNC chairman Howard Dean — are working to get Ellison elected, as are several prominent liberal luminaries, such as activist filmmaker Michael Moore.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez

Perez launched his bid for DNC chair in mid-December with support from Democratic chairmen in Texas, Massachusetts and his home state of Maryland.

He got a boost last week with endorsements from four of the nation’s 18 Democratic governors — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Democrats will be closely watching for signals from the White House, including whether President Obama makes an endorsement. Perez is said to have been urged to run by Obama and Vice President Biden and met with some of the president’s top advisers before launching his bid.

About a quarter of the DNC members voting are affiliated with the labor movement, which should be Perez’s wheelhouse.

But Perez suffered a setback when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka pushed his groups to vote before Perez got into the race. That hugely influential endorsement went to Ellison instead.

The move infuriated some unions that fall under the AFL-CIO umbrella. The International Association of Fire Fighters and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union International have since broken ranks to back Perez.

Raymond Buckley, Jaime Harrison and Sally Boynton Brown

Buckley is well regarded in his home state of New Hampshire, one of the few swing states that Democrats won in 2016.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenBrunson release spotlights the rot in Turkish politics and judiciary Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen MORE (D-N.H.); Sen.-elect Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), the sitting governor; and Reps. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) and Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) are backing Buckley, as are four DNC members with votes from New Hampshire.

Harrison, of South Carolina, has endorsements from Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeTrump attacks Dems on farm bill Dem lawmaker sees 'probability’ that next Speaker will be black Moulton looks to recruit new generation of Dem leaders MORE (D-Ohio), but neither has a vote in the contest. 

Brown, the executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, has the backing of her state's four DNC members, including state chairman Bert Marley.