Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally
DNC chief attracts criticism from Dem insiders
Democrats are pointing the finger at the man tasked with rebuilding their party: Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez.
As the party undergoes a facelift after last year's disastrous election, some DNC members and fundraisers say Perez hasn't done enough to improve fundraising or build enthusiasm since taking the helm in February.
In July, the DNC raised just $3.8 million, its worst fundraising month since 2007. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee raised $10.2 million the same month. The DNC also added $154,000 to its debt, bringing its total debt load to $3.4 million.
"A lot of us feel like there's nothing exciting, nothing invigorating coming from that building and particularly from Tom Perez," said one top Democratic bundler, who complained that the DNC chairman didn't even coordinate the first meeting for fundraisers until several weeks ago.
"I've never heard from him. Not once," the bundler said. "If you want to show strength, you personally reach out to all the big fundraisers."
Critics also bring up Perez's decision to return to his alma mater of Brown University to teach as a senior fellow.
"Being DNC chair is a full time job," one strategist said. "There isn't time for side gigs."
The Hill interviewed more than a dozen lawmakers, fundraisers, strategists and DNC members for this story who raised doubts about the chairman, and asked whether the former Labor secretary, prosecutor and special counselor has the political savvy for his position.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) lamented what he considers Perez's rocky start.
"There's a lot of room for improvement," he said.
He attributed Perez's struggles to both his political inexperience and the controversial manner in which he was elected. Perez was seen as the establishment pick for the job and defeated Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who was supported by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
"Part of the problem is that when you're a parachutist into the party [and] you didn't work yourself up the party chain and in the trenches, I think you're going to have problems, especially with [what] is still a very divisive and contested match," Gutiérrez said Wednesday.
Michael Tyler, the DNC national press secretary, pushed back on the sentiment that the party is struggling under Perez.
"Democrats continue to flip Republican-held seats and win elections in areas that Donald Trump won last year, because we're witnessing historic grass-roots enthusiasm for Democrats across the country," Tyler said.
While Democrats have yet to flip a seat in Congress, they have had some successes in state legislative races and hope to win governorships next month in New Jersey and Virginia, where they are favored.
"We're successfully harnessing this moment into a movement for electoral success at the ballot box because of the smart investments we're able to make due to the generous contributions of donors including the thousands giving $22 at a time online," Tyler said.
"Because of their efforts, we're outperforming previous 'off-year' fundraising efforts and we're confident we'll have the resources we need to compete and win elections this year, next year and beyond."
Tyler also pointed to an initial $1.5 million investment in the Democratic Party of Virginia, which helped the party hire 40 additional field organizers. The investment also includes doubling the number of organizers in the state and improvements to their digital, data and tech platforms. The DNC also announced a grant program, which would include giving all state parties a monthly $10,000 investment from the DNC through 2018.
DNC officials also offered a more personal defense of Perez, who they say has worked relentlessly for the party since his election.
"Tom has been on the road nearly seven days a week to campaign for candidates up and down the ballot and raise money for the party from Obama donors, Clinton donors and others who are getting involved for the first time because they understand what's at stake," one DNC official said.
According to sources, Perez has sought the advice of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Howard Dean, both former chairmen of the DNC. He has been in communication with former President Obama, who initially encouraged him to run for chair through his longtime aide David Simas.
On Wednesday, Perez announced the appointments of five deputy national finance chairmen in a signal of the need to improve fundraising.
"This team has a proven track record and decades of combined experience raising the resources to elect Democrats up and down the ballot," he said in a statement. "They played a key role in sending President Obama to the Oval Office, and they'll help ensure that we continue to elect Democrats in 2017, 2018, and beyond."
Some of the fundraising disparity can be traced to President Trump, who as a sitting president is providing an advantage to his party.
Still, the figures have been brutal.
During the first half of the year, the DNC raised $38.1 million, while the RNC brought in $75.4 million. And while the RNC had nearly $45 million in the bank, the DNC had less than $7.5 million.
Fundraising at the congressional level, meanwhile, has been strong. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee filled its coffers with $60 million in the first six months of this year, on track with the amount raised by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Similarly, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee brought in roughly $700,000 more than its Republican counterpart in that same time period.
All of this has raised worries among Democrats.
"Donors in particular will follow the activism and energy. If Perez was able to show this was a new and invigorated Democratic Party by opening up a dialogue and demonstrating how the party has changed, I think things would be different," one DNC member said. "But I don't think a lot of people are seeing it. It's worrisome because there is a role for the DNC, but he hasn't defined it."
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) characterized Perez's detractors as "disgruntled critics."
"He's going around the country. Obviously, it's hard to fundraise without having a president, or control of the House or the Senate. So he's going to be a little bit slower, and also I think the closer we get to election cycles things will pick up," he said.
Democratic strategist Brad Bannon also downplayed concerns about Perez, describing him as a no-nonsense type who can get things done.
"He doesn't need a high profile, but he needs to raise money," Bannon added. "The money is a problem."