I’ve been working hard on my second book for the past several months. I’m currently holed up in Aspen cranking out the first draft. I’m hoping to have it finished this month or by early July at the latest, hence the blogging inactivity over here despite the many political developments in Washington DC and throughout the country. Regular political blogging/reporting will resume shortly, I promise!
HELENA, Mont. – Rob Quist, a political novice from Flathead Valley, won the Montana Democratic Party’s nomination to run for the state’s at-large seat in the House of Representatives. Quist, a musician, will face off against the Montana Republican Party’s nominee in a special election scheduled for May 25 to fill the seat vacated by Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, who was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior last week.
“I really feel like I’ve been representing the state of Montana all my life, through my music,” Quist told reporters after his victory. “Instead of playing music and providing entertainment for people, we’ll be giving speeches and hopefully trying to energize people.”
“I really feel that with my connection to the people of the state of Montana, and they recognize that I’m someone that stood up for Montana values all my life,” he added. “I really don’t feel like I’m the underdog here.”
Former Rep. Pat Williams agreed with that assessment, saying “Rob Quist has a bit of an upper hand because he’s known throughout Montana, particularly in eastern Montana, small towns, and the bigger cities. They know him, so he’s going to do well.”
Dawn Gandalf, Vice-Chair of the Sanders County Central Committee, addressed the issue of the party not reaching out to rural communities and voters, which was the subject of at least one meeting during the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in Atlanta last week. “To have the state start getting involved in recognizing rural communities, it’s been a problem in our state because we are such a huge state,” she explained. “All the attention and funds have gone to the seven or eight top cities, urban cities, and nothing to the outlying. So on the outlying communities, you have people who are voting, but they’re neglected and there’s no support.”
Quist won the race on the fourth and final ballot 90-69 in a head-to-head matchup with State Rep. Amanda Curtis (D-Billings). Curtis became the party’s nominee in the 2014 Senate race against Steve Daines, after interim Senator John Walsh dropped out of the race because of a plagiarism scandal. Quist’s victory was announced by Williams, who was the last Democrat to represent Montana in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1997.
“I feel better about Democrats’ chances now than I’ve had in quite a number of years,” Williams said during an interview. “In my opinion, this is going to be a very good race for Democrats.”
One early sign of energy among the Democratic base in the state was the Women’s March in Helena on January 21. Gandalf said that while organizers originally estimated a turnout of 1,200, the actual number who came to the march was 10,000.
That energy may not necessarily be limited to Montana. Dan West, a former Obama administration political appointee at NASA who ran for the party’s nomination in this race and dropped out after the second ballot, felt optimistic about this race getting national attention and support from Democrats outside the state. “The national party is eyeing [this special election]. There’s no other races happening right now to funnel money away,” he said during an interview. West added that he would send out an email to his Obama alumni network to urge them to support Quist in this race.
During his closing speech before delegates began voting, Quist offered unequivocal defenses of the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, public lands, and public education. Despite the fierce opposition to Republican-controlled Washington that has been building within the Democratic base nationwide, Quist is running on a platform of state issues that matter to voters, not hardline opposition or obstructionism. “He’s not running against Paul Ryan or Donald Trump,” Gallatin County Vice-Chair Elizabeth Marum said. “He’s running to put everyday average Montanans at the forefront of his optics, and we have a lot of needs.”
The Montana Republican Party is holding its nominating convention tomorrow. Several Democrats said they expect businessman Greg Gianforte – the GOP nominee in the 2016 gubernatorial race – to win the nomination. Gianforte lost his race in the same election that saw Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke win statewide by 20 and 16 points last November.
When asked what Quist and the Montana Democratic Party need to do to win, Williams said, “What Democrats have to do to win is continue to talk to seniors, workers, and Indian tribal people. With that combination, and a couple of other things thrown in, they used to win, and they can again.”
I’m in Helena, where I will be covering the Montana Democratic Party’s nominating convention tomorrow to pick a candidate to run for the state’s at-large congressional seat, which was vacated when Ryan Zinke was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior. As was the case at the DNC winter meeting, I will be blogging and posting updates from the convention.
On a related note: Matt Volz of the Associated Press has three stories (here, here and here) previewing the state of the race as both major parties and the Libertarian Party prepare to pick their nominees (the Montana GOP’s nominating convention is on Monday). The general election is scheduled for May 25.
Having spoken to and emailed several party officials, here is what the special elections schedule looks like over the next three months to fill the five vacant seats in the House of Representatives:
March 5-6 – Party nominating conventions for Democratic and Republican candidates for Montana AL CD.
April 4 – California 34th CD primary election
April 11 – Kansas 4th CD general election: Ron Estes (R) v. Jim Thompson (D)
April 18 – Georgia 6th CD general election
May 2 – South Carolina 5th CD primary
May 16 – South Carolina 5th CD primary runoff election (if necessary)
May 20 – Montana AL CD general election: Greg Gianforte (R) v. Rob Quist (D)
June 6 – California 34th CD general election (the top two candidates from primary, if no candidate gets 50 percent of the votes +1 on April 4)
June 20 – Georgia 6th CD runoff election (only if no candidate gets 50 percent of the votes +1 on April 18)
June 20 – South Carolina 5th CD general election
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.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley announced this morning he is getting out of the race and getting behind Keith Ellison. Here’s the statement:
From the moment I stepped into this race, I made it clear that the top two priorities of the next DNC Chair must be to strengthen state parties and reform the DNC,” said Ray Buckley. “Now, many candidates have spoken about these issues, but Keith’s commitment to the states and a transparent and accountable DNC has stood out. He knows elections are not won and lost in the beltway, but on the ground across the country. His plan, in fact, shared many of the same ideas and principles as my own. We both believe in investing in all 50 states, Democrats Abroad, and the territories, providing support and resources to help state parties succeed, and organizing in every county across this great country. And here’s the thing, we both have a track record of winning elections. While it was a tremendous honor to run for DNC Chair over the past few months, I am proud to throw my support behind Keith so we can ensure that the next Chair of the DNC is dedicated to investing in and strengthening state parties and ensuring that the DNC is an accountable organization. As I’ve talked to the DNC membership, it’s clear Keith has widespread support, and I know as our next DNC Chair Keith will successfully unite and grow our party.”
This is a big get for Ellison for two reasons: first, it removes a potential rival from the race. Second, in his capacity as chairman of the NHDP, Buckley has a vote in picking the next chairman at the party’s winter meeting in Atlanta at the end of the month.
You can read my interview from a few weeks ago with Ray Buckley here.
Multiple news organizations are reporting that former vice president Joe Biden has endorsed Tom Perez for DNC chairman. The Perez campaign has not yet sent out an announcement or posted it on social media. According to the Daily Beast, Perez was telling DNC members gathered in Houston last weekend that he had locked down Biden’s support:
Since as recently as last week, Perez had been telling DNC members that he had secured Biden’s endorsement. At the site of last weekend’s DNC forum in Houston, Texas, Perez was discussing the future of the Democratic Party with a private gathering of DNC members. According to two sources familiar with the exchanges, Perez excitedly said, in an apparent effort to drum up more support from DNC members, that the former vice president had his back. “And that’s why Joe Biden is coming out for me next week,” one DNC member recalled Perez saying.
UPDATE: Here’s the tweet from Tom Perez
Today I am proud to have my friend, Joe Biden, as a partner in our ongoing fight to turn around the Democratic Party. pic.twitter.com/kOFQMRcwHV