Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez overcame a stiff challenge from the radical-left Muslim, Congressman Keith Ellison, and was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Establishment Democrats breathed a sigh of relief. Electing Ellison would have put the crazies in charge and regular Democrats, recognizing the perilous state of the party, knew that making Ellison the public face of Democrats would have been a disaster of the first order.
As it was, Ellison came a lot closer than anyone thought a few short weeks ago.
The paper-ballot vote at a conference center here comes after months of tense campaigning that has convulsed a party desperate to avoid a redux of 2016’s Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders primary fight.
But that hope was dashed as nerves rose ahead of the election — the party’s first contested chairmanship fight in at least three decades, which saw many prominent Democrats picking sides. While Perez touted endorsements from former Obama administration officials like Vice President Joe Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Ellison had the backing of prominent senators including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Chuck Schumer.
Tensions exploded on the floor Saturday as members of Ellison’s team sent voting members text messages during the first round voting process claiming an endorsement from Buttigieg — which Buttigieg then rebutted on Twitter. Only after voting closed did Ellison forces text out a correction. As the second round of voting finished, Ellison’s team circulated a last-second endorsement from former chair Howard Dean, feeling the need to clarify “This is real.”
When Perez won, Ellison backers erupted in anger, chanting “Party of the people, not big money!” But that fury turned to relief and big smiles as Ellison took the deputy chair title.
Buttigieg, seen as a rising voice in the party, had the backing of five former chairs, including Dean. But he used his nominating speech to leave the race, having raised his profile but also having determined the votes simply weren’t there for him to win.
The election closes a tumultuous chapter for the party committee, which was rocked last summer by a Russian hack and publication of internal emails. The exposed emails were widely viewed as evidence that some DNC staffers favored Clinton over Sanders in the presidential primary, inflaming that race. The resulting controversy saw the ouster of the longtime chair, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, at the party convention in July.
Both Perez and Ellison sought to present themselves as unity candidates, but Perez was widely seen as the candidate representing the Obama-Clinton wing of the party, and Ellison as the candidate of the Bernie Sanders wing. Buttigieg and others sought to present themselves as an alternative path forward, but the party’s deep divisions nonetheless defined much of the race.
It should be noted that Perez is no moderate, but is well within what passes for the mainstream of the left-wing Democrats. His decision to name Ellison co-chair—which may or may not prove to be a gigantic mistake—appeared to paper over some of the more vocal differences between the Sanders-Warren crowd and the Clintonites. At least the Dems avoided the circular firing squad many were predicting with a Perez victory.
How long will Ellison last as Perez’s deputy? He will almost certainly be sidelined by Perez and establishment Democrats, who will look to blunt any influence he may try to exercise on policy and personnel. That may prove more difficult than they think, given Ellison’s status as spokesman for the radicals. He will be much sought after as a Sunday show guest, where interviewers will try to get him to bad mouth Perez and establishment party members.
Somehow, I don’t think he’ll be able to resist.