One Month Into Trump Presidency, the Democrats’ 2020 Field Is Beginning to Take Shape

I had been meaning to flag this good piece a few days ago from Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti on the Democrats’ ever-growing list of possible candidates who want to run against Donald Trump in 2020, potentially as many as two dozen senators and governors who are more or less openly pondering their White House ambitions.

A lot of this interest comes from elected officials and operatives who had cleared the field for Hillary Clinton in 2007 and again in 2015 expecting her to win.  If she had been elected last November, that would have meant there wouldn’t be an open Democratic primary until 2024, assuming she had been elected to serve two terms. Her loss – combined with Donald Trump’s turbulent first month in office – means that many are sensing an opportunity that might not have been there even as recently as early January.

It should also be noted that some of these would-be candidates probably have little or no chance of getting the nomination. The question now is whether Democrats will follow the Republican model of running for president, in the sense that long-shot candidates don’t run with the expectation of actually winning, but rather to raise their profile and grow their email and donor lists to do something else: get a TV pundit or book deal, or set themselves up to run for another elected office in the future.  Then again, in the age of Trump, long shots from either party are now probably thinking they do have a chance of winning.

Minnesota DFL Chairman Elected President of State Chairs Association

ATLANTA – Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, was elected president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, defeating Connecticut Democratic Party chairman Nick Baletto and Democratic Party of Virginia chairwoman Susan Swecker in a race that took three ballots to determine the victor. The Minnesota DFL will have considerable influence within the Democratic National Committee because two of its members – Martin and Rep. Keith Ellison – will hold senior positions in the party.

Swecker dropped out after the first ballot. The second ballot – a head-to-head matchup between Martin and Baletto – ended in a 56-56 tie, prompting the outgoing ASDC president Ray Buckley to quip, “God wants me to remain as president a while longer.” Martin won 62-48 on the third ballot.

In between ballots, Buckley asked South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison and Idaho Democratic Party executive director Sally Boynton Brown to join him at the front of the room to discuss the recent chairman race. He pointed out that all three of them brought the perspective and the issues facing the state parties to the top of the agenda in the race for the chairmanship.

“We traveled across this country to make sure your voice was heard,” Buckley said. “We educated not only the other candidates, but hundreds of thousands of people who watched the debates.” He noted that regardless of the subject of the question, “We went back to talking about state parties.”

Buckley also said that the relationship between the state parties and the DNC would change in a short time, noting that “We’ll be getting back in the winning business.”

Shortly after, the newly elected DNC chairman Tom Perez entered the meeting to a standing ovation from the state party chairs.  “Is Delaware in the house?” he asked, referring to the special election for the state senate seat that took place the same day. Stephanie Hansen won the race 58-41, up from a narrow 51-49 Democratic win in 2014. Perez pointed out that the DNC made a $300,000 investment in the race and said, “That’s the new paradigm.”

“I have an unlimited reservoir of optimism that we can turn this thing around.”

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I followed up with a Democratic Party official to try to verify and get more information about the $300,000 figure cited by Perez. The official said that if Perez said the DNC invested that amount of money in the race, then he misspoke. The official added that they think Perez said that $300,000 was the total amount spent, not the amount the DNC invested.

The official also added that the DNC helped out in the race through other ways – volunteer recruitment, sending out a Get Out The Vote email, and social media.

Tom Perez Elected DNC Chairman, Deputizes Keith Ellison

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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.

Perez Falls Half a Vote Short of Winning DNC Chairmanship on the First Ballot

ATLANTA—Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez came within half a vote of winning the chairmanship for the Democratic National Committee on the first ballot.  Out of 427 ballots cast, the threshold to win was 214. Perez finished with 213.5 ballots, Rep. Keith Ellison finished second with 200 ballots. Idaho Democratic Party executive director Sally Boynton Brown finished third with 12 votes. South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who withdrew from the race earlier in the day, received one vote. Former Fox News pundit Jehmu Greene received half a ballot. The remaining candidates – Air Force veteran Sam Ronan and attorney Peter Peckarsky did not receive any ballots.  Perez and Greene’s half ballots came from the Democrats Abroad caucus.

Boynton Brown, Greene, Ronan and Peckarsky withdrew from the race after the first ballot. Greene endorsed Perez, Peckarsky endorsed Ellison, and Ronan endorsed Ellison but said he would support Perez if he won. Boynton Brown did not endorse a candidate. This sets up a head-to-head matchup between Ellison and Perez for the second ballot.  Perez could have won the first ballot outright if the DNC member who voted for Buttigieg had cast his or her ballot for him or if he had received the half ballot cast for Greene.

The second ballot is currently underway.

Pete Buttigieg Drops Out of DNC Chair Race, Does Not Endorse a Candidate

ATLANTA – South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg unexpectedly announced his withdrawal from the race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, minutes after he had been formally nominated as a candidate and members were scheduled to vote. The hall full of DNC members and the filing room next door for the press listened in stunned silence as Buttigieg, sometimes showing a little emotion, announced his decision.  “We saw the potential of doing well on multiple ballots but we can do the math,” he said. “It is time for this process to move toward a solution that we can all get on board with.” He also urged Democrats to address the party’s woes with rural voters, saying, “Pay attention to communities like ours in the heart of the country, not as an exotic species but as fellow Americans.”

Buttigieg had emerged as the potential dark horse candidate in the race who might have won as an alternative to frontrunners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison.  In the final days and weeks leading up to the election, he racked up a series of high profile endorsements, including from five former DNC chairs and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). He declined to endorse any of the other candidates in his speech.  His decision to drop out means that it is likely Perez or Ellison have the votes to win the chairmanship in the first or second round of voting.

The Perez campaign released a statement following Buttigieg’s announcement, saying “Pete Buttigieg is the future of our party.  It is clear to all of us who have gotten to know Pete through this process that he is immensely talented and has a bright future in this party.”

UPDATE: I spoke with Dan Parker, the former chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party and an adviser to Buttigieg’s campaign.

“His speech speaks for itself. I thought he was the best candidate for the short time he was in the race and ran the best campaign. But sometimes the best candidate doesn’t win.”

Asked if the math wasn’t there, Parker responded, “Our theory was there, but this process needs to come to a close. The party needs a chair and it did not need a multi-ballot.”

Democratic National Committee Election Day Rules

ATLANTA — Democratic Party officials explained to reporters on background the rules for how today’s election will go down:

  • Fifty percent + 1 votes are required to win.
  • If all 447 voting members were present, 224 votes would be required to win. However, party officials said not all members were present, and potentially as many as 70 proxies would be voting on behalf of absent members.
  • Proxies can receive very specific instructions from the people they are representing in terms of who to vote for, or they can have the freedom to vote for whom they please.
  • The total amount of votes cast today will not exceed 442.
  • All candidates will appear on the ballot in the first round of voting, as well as the second round if none of the candidates drop out.
  • If there is a third round of voting, the candidate with fewest votes at the end of the second round is eliminated and will not appear on the ballot in the next round. If there is a tie for candidates with fewest votes, they are both eliminated.
  • After each round of voting after the third round, the candidate with the fewest ballot is eliminated.
  • If a candidate drops out, he or she gets two minutes to address the entire general session. During the address he or she can say whatever they want, or endorse another candidate.
  • The votes will be counted by an electronic clicker, along with a paper ballot that each candidate must fill out and submit. The ballot acts as a paper trail in the event the vote must be audited.
  • Members have a two-minute window to pick their candidates on the clicker in each round of voting. They can change votes in that two-minute window, but once time is up, the vote is set.

Tom Perez Racks Up Endorsements on Final Day Before DNC Election

ATLANTA – Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez showed signs of seizing momentum in the final stretch of the race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. His campaign announced a series of endorsements from DNC voting members in the last 24 hours before party insiders gather to elect their next chairman and other senior party leaders.

The endorsements include the entire delegations of Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as individual members from Florida, Texas and Virginia.