Pelosi Challenger: Dems in Denial of 'Middle Finger from Middle America'

WASHINGTON -- A congressman who moved for the House Democratic caucus to postpone their leadership elections until the week after Thanksgiving said he's "one of the few people who have been advocating that we vote openly instead of a closed ballot, because I think it's cowardice not to."

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said he thinks in the end "Nancy Pelosi is going to have the votes."

"But I think what Tim Ryan is doing, which is not some kind of a sacrificial gesture, I think he is very, very serious about what's going on," he told MSNBC today, referring to the Ohio Democrat challenging the California Democrat for minority leader.

Cleaver said while House Dems can only vote for one of the candidates, they should listen to the ideas of both.

"The light in our lamp is not out. And I think we've got to be careful about suggesting that that light is out. It is dimmer than it was pre-November 8th," he said. "But I think we can do it. And we can do it with Nancy Pelosi as the leader. I think she is open to doing the things that Congressman Ryan is asking for.

"We do need more leadership coming from young people. He is absolutely right. And we need to redirect some of our attention -- I represent some rural areas and they need attention, as well."

Ryan told CNN today that he knows he's got a "David vs. Goliath" fight on his hands.

"Look, these reorganization moments are messy. They're always messy. But they're necessary for us to figure out what direction we need to go in. And in my -- my goal here, of course, is to win and be a leader because I think I could do a very, very good job and I think I could go anywhere in the country," the Ohio congressman added.

"But I want to ask the question to my colleagues. How many seats do we have to lose before we make a change? We've lost 68 seats since 2010. Is it 80 seats? Is it 90 seats? Like, what's the number that forces us to do things differently? And so I'm pulling the fire alarm here."

Ryan won Trumbull County in his district with about 70 percent of the vote, a county that Donald Trump won by 7 points this year and President Obama won by 23 points four years ago.

"We need to talk to working-class people. You know, we -- we don't talk to everybody anymore. We slice and dice and we talk to subgroups and interest groups that -- all on issues that I support, by the way. I'm as progressive as anyone else in our caucus, but we don't have a unifying message that we could talk about in every room," he said. "The Democratic establishment, the Republican establishment, Wall Street -- they all got a middle finger from middle America and Democrats, I fear, are in denial right now of what's happening."

On MSNBC, Cleaver also seemed to pour cold water on the idea of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) being chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- as long as he also still wants to be a congressman.

"What I said to him, looking him in the face, was look, we need a full-time person who wakes up every morning with only one thing in mind, and that's rebuilding and spreading the Democratic Party. And if you are willing to devote full-time to that, I'll be one of your primary cheerleaders," Cleaver said. "...But we need somebody who's going to do it every single morning, that is, working for the party and not worrying about going to a committee hearing or trying to make this meeting or that meeting, work on the Democratic Party."