Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez and Deputy Chairman Keith Ellison will hit the road Friday to kick off the reeling party’s “Democratic turnaround tour.”
The newly minted party chairman and the Minnesota congressman will first head to Michigan — a state Democrats lost in the 2016 presidential race for the first time in almost 30 years — before stopping in New Jersey, Texas and Virginia over the next two weeks.
Embarking on the joint trip is as much about expanding the party’s appeal in the Trump era as it is about rebuilding party infrastructure and mending intraparty wounds after the two men’s contentious chairmanship race.
“This will be them talking about the need to get back to basics,” a DNC official told The Hill. “We need to invest in local organizing, listen to states and make sure we are doing what’s best for them, because they know their states and their races best. … There are opportunities if we invest in these states.
“And we’ll be talking directly to voters about what the party stands for, [including] a message of economic opportunity — whether it’s the way ‘TrumpCare’ will impact the pocketbooks of workers or how the policies of the Trump administration will hurt workers.”
The choice to start in Michigan is symbolic. There, establishment Democrats are accused of ignoring signs that local support was slipping away until it was too late. Perez and Ellison will hold two events in Detroit and Flint, two Democratic strongholds where low turnout helped sink Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE.
The stops in New Jersey and Virginia come ahead of gubernatorial races in both sates, the marquee electoral matchups of 2017.
And in Texas, Democrats have a state where they believe that current investments can flower into electoral gains if and when demographics turn the Republican stronghold purple.
In each state, the former rivals plan to meet with a slew of officials, activists and voters as they look to send the signal that the party is committed to local investment.
“They are going to states they should have won to tell them ‘we get it, we understand what went wrong and are going to change.’ They are going to states where it is critical where we have a strong organization, given these gubernatorial races,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told The Hill.
“And it’s extremely important, especially in Texas, where after the past election we made significant progress … it sends a message to our folks the party is serious about doing something in Texas.”
The overtures to state party figures are important because virtually all Democrats agree the national party’s previous leadership left state parties out in the cold.
Some local officials are already heartened by news that the DNC won’t stop distributing the $7,500 monthly grant it gives to each state, which became delayed for months after the 2008 elections.
But the trip is also an important messaging moment for activists and potential voters, too, aimed at both convincing skeptical progressives to stay on board and for using President TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE’s historically low approval ratings to grow the party.
Perez and Ellison have gone to great lengths to present a unified front after a tough DNC chairmanship race that turned Democrats against one another.
Trump’s victory only served to harden some progressives around the idea that a more populist and grassroots candidate like Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks Sanders, Manchin escalate fight over .5T spending bill Sanders blames media for Americans not knowing details of Biden spending plan MORE (I-Vt.) could have won. So they channeled their energy toward Ellison’s bid for chairman in hopes of delivering a big victory for the party’s progressive wing.
But Perez, an Obama administration Labor secretary who entered the race late, cobbled together a broader coalition, which some progressives saw as yet another win for the party’s establishment.
Both men have worked to discourage intraparty factionalism.
Perez wasted no time after the vote by immediately appointing Ellison to the newly created position of deputy chairman, holding a press conference where the two wore each other’s campaign buttons as a show of unity. And they’ve regularly appeared together in interviews, as well as when Ellison invited Perez to be his guest to Trump’s congressional address in February.
The truce is still a work in progress. Many progressives are holding out until the tangible results of the party’s new unity commission, which starts in late April, before making up their minds.
But Ellison supporters say that his big role in party leadership is a step in the right direction.
“We have faith that Tom will be the chair that the party needs and wants and deserves,” said New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley, who ran for DNC chairman himself before dropping out and endorsing Ellison.
“And the appointment of Keith was more than just symbolic. He will become a very powerful tool for the party, not just because of his relationships but because of his unique skills and background.”
Ellison will head to New Hampshire on Saturday to deliver a speech to the party’s state committee meeting and attend a fundraiser.
Strategists say that the turnaround tour also must take advantage of the rocky start to Trump’s presidency to fire up Democrats and anyone concerned about the administration’s actions.
To Democratic strategist and presidential campaign veteran Jamal Simmons, the two most important messages for Democrats right now should be about courage and vision.
“Democratic activists want to see that leaders have the courage to stand up to Donald Trump and show that they are going to do what it takes to fight him at every front possible,” he said.
“And while voters were very aware of Donald Trump’s shortcomings, they weren’t as bought into a Democratic vision of the future. At some point, the Democrats have to shift to laying that foundation.”