Keith Ellison Will Resign House Seat If Elected DNC Chair

The DNC race shifts to a debate over economic populism.
"The Democratic Party must be the party that delivers for working people," Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said on Tuesday.
"The Democratic Party must be the party that delivers for working people," Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said on Tuesday.
Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said Tuesday he will step down from his seat in Congress if Democrats elect him head of the party.

“In order to further their commitment and maximize my effectiveness, I have decided to resign as a member of Congress if I win the election for DNC chair,” Ellison said in a statement. “Whoever wins the DNC chair race faces a lot of work, travel, planning and resource raising. I will be ‘all-in’ to meet the challenge.”

Ellison has quickly racked up a series of key endorsements in the race. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his successor Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are behind Ellison, as are populist champions Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), along with more than 100 Democratic lawmakers.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has indicated he would like to see either Labor Secretary Thomas Perez or former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm get the job, while Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) is promoting South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison, a former Capitol Hill staffer and corporate lobbyist.

Some Democrats backing other candidates have objected that Ellison’s job in Congress will distract him from important work as the party tries to rebuild after a devastating 2016 election. Democrats widely view the recent tenure of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) as DNC chair as a debacle, in part for her dual role as congresswoman and party head. By offering to resign, Ellison hopes to focus the DNC chair race on questions of economic policy and party organization.

“At this point, the Democratic Party must be the party that delivers for working people,” Ellison said Tuesday. “We can do that by meeting folks where they are, looking them in the eye, treating them with respect, and working to solve their problems. For me, that means a chair with only one full time commitment.”

Ellison currently occupies what may be the safest House seat for Democrats in the country. He has been elected by a margin of at least 40 percentage points in every contest since first winning the district in 2006 (that year, his margin was a comfortable 35 percentage points).

Ellison was a prominent supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during the Democratic presidential primary, and the contest to head the DNC is serving as a proxy battle over economic populism. In his DNC policy platform, Ellison calls for a new focus on small-dollar donations instead of big corporate checks, and a renewed emphasis on state and local parties to recruit candidates and develop voter outreach. Both measures would shift the balance of power in the party away from D.C. insiders.

Ellison, who would be the first Muslim to head the Democratic Party, is also facing a smear campaign involving, among others, pundit Steven Emerson, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an anti-Muslim extremist.

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