Democrats Look to Fill Leadership Post After Election Defeat

  • New chairman will help shape agenda for 2018 and beyond
  • Keith Ellison said he’ll say soon whether he’ll seek position

Representative Keith Ellison speaks during a press conference about Islamophobia at the National Press Club on May 24, 2016, in Washington.

Photographer: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

As Democrats reflect on losing the 2016 presidential election despite winning the popular vote, and on still being the minority party going into the next congressional session, they will start to rebuild the party with the choice of a new Democratic National Committee chair.

The next DNC leader could set the tone and agenda for the 2018 mid-term election cycle and beyond. “The next head of the DNC needs to be a committed progressive,” Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” without making an endorsement.

Among those who may battle for the post are Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is black and the first Muslim elected to Congress; Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate who was chairman from 2005 to 2009; and Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland who ran for president this year and finished a distant third in the Democratic primaries.

“The Democratic Party needs some shaking up,” Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey said in a statement on Sunday. “It needs something new. It needs a DNC chair that represents a younger, more strategic, more progressive, more diverse Democratic Party.”

She’s backing Ellison, who said on ABC’s “This Week” that he will “have something to say real soon” about whether he’s seeking the position.

Ground Up

Senator Bernie Sanders, who gave Hillary Clinton her only serious challenge in the 2016 Democratic race, is backing Ellison. So is Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another favorite of the party’s progressive wing, and Senator Charles Schumer of New York, who’s expected to be the minority leader in the next Congress.

For his part, Ellison said the party needs to rebuild from the ground up, focusing on local elections and party leaders at the precinct level, to boost turnout and govern in city councils and state legislatures. The party, he said “needs to put the voters first, not the donors first.”

“You’ve got to have a vision to strengthen the grassroots,” Ellison said on ABC. The party should have “a laser-beam focus on everything we do, and everything we do should animate and empower them at the grassroots level for working people across this country. That’s how we come back.”

“It has to be the guys in the barber shop, the lady at the diner, the folks who are worried about if their plant is going to close -- they’ve got to be our focus,” Ellison said.

E-Mail Noise

Ellison said Democrats lost this week’s election because their positions didn’t make it through the noise of whether former Secretary of State Clinton violated any law by use of personal e-mail services for government communications.

As a result, voters in traditionally Democratic states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin opted for the populist message of real estate developer Donald Trump -- a sign that the Democrats haven’t been successful in promoting their policies, Ellison said.

 “Neither party should be standing with pride and chest-bumping right now when you have something that’s very historic, one of the few times in which the Electoral College and the popular vote were different,” Booker said. “The message to both parties should be right now that we need to find ways to work together to speak to the American public.”

The DNC is composed of the senior party officials from each of its state-level organizations and controls key fund-raising functions and runs the party’s presidential election campaign. Its most recent chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned after WikiLeaks published internal party e-mails showed favoritism for Clinton over Sanders during the primaries.

The interim party chair, Donna Brazile, was criticized for her behavior in her role as an analyst for CNN, when she was allegedly passed to the Clinton campaign questions candidates would face during the Democratic primary. Brazile has denied doing so, but resigned from the network in mid-October.

— With assistance by Christopher Condon

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