ATLANTA – Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez was elected to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, beating Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) 235-200 in the second round of voting, easily clearing the 218-ballot threshold for victory. Ellison supporters were initially furious at the outcome, shouting “Party for the people, not big money!” after the outcome was announced. Those emotions quickly changed to joy after Perez, in his first official act as chairman, introduced a motion appointing Ellison as deputy chairman. The motion was quickly approved by thrilled DNC members who supported both candidates.
“Allow me to congratulate our chair for successfully passing his first motion,” Ellison facetiously said after the announcement. He urged members and the party to unite behind the new chairman, saying, “We don’t have the luxury, folks, to walk out of this room divided.”
It was the culmination of the chaotic final hours of the race which began in the weeks after last November’s presidential election. During the first round of voting, the Ellison campaign sent text messages to DNC members claiming South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg had endorsed him, a claim Buttigieg refuted on Twitter. Perez finished half a vote short of the 214 votes necessary to win on the first ballot. Ellison supporters sent out a subsequent text message during the second ballot announcing a last-minute endorsement from Governor Howard Dean, with a note assuring them that it was real. Perez was able to pick up 22 additional votes on the second ballot, which secured his victory.
Asked to account for where these additional votes might have come from, South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison – who also ran for the chairmanship and endorsed Perez after dropping out of the race – said, “I think in the end, sometimes people had thoughts on what they were doing in the first ballot and that strategy might change on the second ballot. It was always important, when I was in the race, to have a second and third ballot strategy. The Perez team had a second ballot strategy where they were going to go after people who couldn’t be with him for the first ballot but made commitments for the second.”
Perez and Ellison held a joint press conference after the election, each wearing the other’s campaign pin on his lapel to emphasize their unity as they prepare to take over leadership of the Democratic National Committee.
“For everybody that supported me in this race, I want to say thank you,” Ellison told reporters. “But I want you to support Tom Perez. I want you to put your energy and time and resources behind making this the best Democratic National Committee it can possibly be.”
Perez did acknowledge that he and Ellison had previously discussed the possibility of working together as chairman and deputy chairman before the election.
Both Perez and Ellison mentioned that the DNC would focus on down-ballot state and local races in their immediate and long-term efforts to rebuild the party. “We’ve got to make sure that we are implementing our shared vision of culture change, so that we are no longer the committee that helps elect the president,” Perez said, in reference to the party’s previous focus on presidential races at the expense of others down the ballot. “We’re the committee that helps to ensure that we are electing people up and down the Democratic ticket. Because if we want to take back the House of Representatives, we got to take back state houses, we got to take back governor’s mansions.”
Though Ellison had previously pledged to resign from Congress if elected chairman, he told reporters he would remain in the House of Representatives while serving as deputy chairman.
“Congratulations to my friend Tom Perez on his election to lead the Democratic Party, and on his choice of Keith Ellison to help him lead it,” former president Barack Obama said in a statement. “I know that Tom Perez will unite us under that banner of opportunity, and lay the groundwork for a new generation of Democratic leadership for this big, bold, inclusive, dynamic America we love so much.”
“I congratulate Tom Perez on his election as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and look forward to working with him,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an Ellison supporter, said in a statement. “It’s imperative Tom understands that the same-old, same-old isn’t working and that we must bring in working and young people in a new way. The Democratic Party must make clear it will stand up to the 1% and lead in the fight for social, racial, economic and environmental justice.”
President Donald Trump responded to the election outcome via Twitter: “Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named Chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!” He sent out a subsequent tweet calling the race for DNC chairman “rigged.”
“By selecting a D.C. insider, Democrats only create deeper divisions within their own party by pushing a far left agenda that rejects a majority of their base outside Washington,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “The DNC would be well-served to learn from two straight election cycle losses, encourage the leaders in their party to listen to what the voters want, and get to work with Republicans to fix the mess they created.”
WikiLeaks tweeted a link to search results where Perez’s name came up in its collection of emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal email account.