WASHINGTON ― The Huffington Post is hosting a debate between the declared candidates for the chair of the Democratic National Committee in January at George Washington University.
The DNC election is scheduled to be held during the party organization’s winter meeting in late February, a month after the Jan. 18 debate, which will be broadcast live on Facebook.
The first major candidate to jump in the race, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who built up a head of steam, has racked up endorsements from across the political spectrum, including Sanders, the AFL-CIO, incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Ellison appears to be attempting to draw enough public support that the voting members of the Democratic National Committee feel compelled to support him, but he has yet to announce a public slate of backers that would put away any challengers.
Ellison drew a fresh opponent recently when Labor Secretary Tom Perez jumped into the race. Both Ellison and Perez will be at the debate in January, which will be moderated by HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen and Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim.
Perez, on a national level, is yoked to the wing of the party that backed Hillary Clinton over Ellison’s candidate, Sanders. But the irony for Perez is that the DNC is made up of many stalwarts whose connection to the party dates back to former President Bill Clinton ― and to those folks, he’s seen more as President Barack Obama’s candidate than a Clinton man. DNC members with ties to Clinton tend to have far less affection for Obama, not for ideological reasons, but because they blame him for letting the DNC fall apart under his watch. During his 2008 campaign, Obama set up Obama for America, which was effectively a parallel DNC. The DNC itself fell into disrepair during his administration, and he largely shut down OFA.
But Perez has an extraordinarily strong reputation among progressives who know him. He also has a deep base of dedicated proteges, which may benefit him in the hand-to-hand combat needed to win an insider’s race like the DNC chair, which comes down to the preferences of some 400-odd members of the committee. Prior to running the Department of Labor, Perez, a former aide to Ted Kennedy, headed the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, where he aggressively tackled police violence, among other hard-charging progressive efforts.
Obama has made little effort to conceal his preference for Perez over Ellison, but has not formally endorsed. On Friday during a press conference, he called Perez “wicked smart,” among a long list of plaudits, then added that others who are running are also “fine people.”
Ellison, a Muslim, has also faced a smear campaign led by Haim Saban, a major Jewish Democratic donor, who has called Ellison an “anti-Semite” and warned that he “would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.” Ellison has been attacked for his prior positive remarks about the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan, a charge that was also made against Obama early in his career, a precursor to an Islamophobic campaign that would dog Obama throughout his presidency. (In a debate, Hillary Clinton criticized Obama for “denouncing” Farrakhan but not “rejecting” him. “I reject and denounce,” Obama replied.)
Ellison and Perez are joined in the contest by Idaho Democrat Sally Boynton Brown, South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison and New Hampshire’s Ray Buckley. Buckley, Boynton Brown and Harrison have confirmed they will participate in the Jan. 18 debate.
We’ve created petitions below for each of the declared candidates; sign one if you’re a supporter of a particular candidate. We’ll announce the total level of support for each candidate at the beginning of the debate, and again at the end. (You can click through to each to see the current level of support.)
This story has been updated to note that Harrison and Pete Buttigieg have confirmed they will participate in the debate.