A Final Dispatch From Atlanta

ATLANTA — After the ASDC election at the end of a marathon day of Democratic National Committee meetings, elections and ballot counts, I walked by the bar in the Westin Hotel where several Democratic delegates, candidates, and activists had gathered to drink, socialize, and celebrate the end of the party’s winter meeting.

As I was passing by, I happened to walk past South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg, who was by himself talking to people. I had briefly interviewed him previously at the Houston airport protest a few weeks earlier, and I was wearing my press credential, but I don’t know if he recognized me.  I walked up, said hello, and asked what was next for him.

“Potholes,” he responded – a reference to his day job as mayor of South Bend.

I told him I had a feeling people hadn’t seen the last of him after this DNC race, and asked if he would be involved with supporting other Democratic candidates and campaigns coming up over the next few months and years. He said he was up to it, but nothing was planned so far.

Finally, I asked when his current term was up, and he told me 2019. I said farewell and went on my way. Mayor Buttigieg didn’t say anything about this during my conversation with him, but I did some research on the election calendar after that conversation and noticed that Eric Holcomb, Indiana’s Republican governor, is up for re-election in 2020.

A lot happens during the course of a single campaign, let alone over the course of several years. If Buttigieg decides to run to be the Hoosier State’s chief executive, especially if he continues to raise his national profile among Democratic leaders and activists over the next three years, he would probably have a very real shot at locking down his party’s nomination and, depending on the political climate when President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence (a native Hoosier and former governor) are running for a second term, he could possibly win it.

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.”

Heidi Heitkamp Endorses Pete Buttigieg for DNC Chairman

ATLANTA – Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) endorsed South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg in his race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. “Pete Buttigieg is the only candidate who has demonstrated he has what it takes to organize and win in places where Democrats haven’t competed for years,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “This is bigger than what happened in 2016 and what will happen in 2018. This is about the future of our party. Pete Buttigieg offers us the best opportunity to be put on a path to victory for decades to come. I proudly endorse Pete Buttigieg and a fresh start for the Democratic Party.”

Heitkamp’s endorsement offers Buttigieg one final big-name endorsement – though she is not a voting DNC member – less than 24 hours before Democrats elect their next chairman. Though the two front-runners in the race continue to be Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Buttigieg has been quietly gaining momentum and endorsements – most notably from five former DNC chairs, including Governor Howard Dean – in recent weeks and has emerged as the leading candidate from the rest of the field.

While the Ellison-Perez battle is seen by many observers and journalists as a proxy war through the prism of the 2016 primaries – Ellison was a Bernie Sanders supporter and Sanders has endorsed him in this race, Perez is seen as having the support of many former cabinet officials in the Obama administration and people close to the former president, including Vice President Joe Biden. Buttigieg – who wrote an essay praising Sanders when he was still in high school and endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 – is perceived by many as a possible alternative candidate who is not tainted by the lingering Clinton-Sanders divisions within the party. At the recent DNC forum in Baltimore less than two weeks ago, Buttigieg said, “I didn’t enjoy the 2016 primary the first time. I don’t know why we would want to relive it a second time.”

Heitkamp is considered one of the Senate Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents up for reelection in 2018. Though North Dakota has a record of electing Democratic senators like Heitkamp, Byron Dorgan, and Kent Conrad in the past, Donald Trump won the state by 36 points in 2016.

Howard Dean Calls Top Senate Democrat’s Endorsement “the Kiss of Death”

ATLANTA — Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean took a swipe at Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer while addressing a room full of DNC members earlier today.

“I think Chuck Schumer’s endorsement is the kiss of death,” Dean said at a lunch organized by South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running to be the next chairman of the organization.  Dean has endorsed Buttigieg.

The context for the comment was an argument that Dean – then the DNC chairman – and Schumer – then the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee – had approximately a decade ago over use of party funds. According to Dean, Schumer wanted more money from the DNC for his committee, a decision Dean opposed by investing the money in state and local parties. During Dean and Schumer’s tenures as chairs of their respective committees, Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress in 2006, and expanded their congressional majorities and won the White House in 2008.

The subtext to Dean’s comment – implicit or not – is the fact that Schumer was one of the earliest and most prominent Democrats to endorse Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) in the DNC race when it began in late 2016.  Ellison was considered one of the frontrunners in the race along with former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez for the past several weeks, but Perez has apparently seized the momentum in the final stretch of the race after unveiling a series of endorsements from voting members of the DNC in support of his candidacy over the past 48 hours.  According to Politico, Schumer sent out a letter to DNC members yesterday reaffirming his support for Ellison and defending him on Israel.

Jaime Harrison Drops Out of DNC Race, Endorses Tom Perez

ATLANTA – South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison announced he was dropping out of the race for Democratic National Committee chairman and endorsing former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. Harrison announced the decision on the first day of the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in Atlanta, less than 24 hours after appearing on a televised candidates’ debate hosted by CNN and less than 48 hours before the election to pick the next chairman is scheduled to take place.

“In a former job, I whipped votes for House Democrats.  I know what a path to victory looks like.  Despite strong performances at the debate and DNC regional forums, the votes are simply not there for me to secure victory on Saturday,” Harrison wrote in an email to DNC members. “Tom Perez has brought integrity, passion, and tenacity to every job he’s ever had.  I have had a front-row seat to these qualities in the many debates and forums we have participated in.  These qualities are why Barack Obama and Joe Biden trusted him to spearhead an economic agenda that brought us out of the recession.  They are why Eric Holder trusted him to enforce our civil rights and voting rights laws so that everyone is treated equally under the law and has access to the ballot box.  And they are why I trust Tom to lead the Democratic turnaround as Chair of the DNC.”

“Every person who knows Jaime Harrison will say he is one of the smartest, most dedicated, and genuine leaders we know. Simply put, he’s one of a kind. Jaime’s commitment to the party is like no other and I’m proud to have his support as we both work together to invest in state parties, turnaround the DNC, and get back to winning,” Perez said in a statement. “If elected chair, I will work with Jaime and others who are running for chair to bring our party together because it will take every one of us to unite a party that is suffering from a crisis of confidence and relevance.”

Perez also announced today that he had received the endorsement of the entire Louisiana DNC delegation, as well as Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards. In a joint statement announcing the endorsement, they said, “Tom’s vision for the DNC and ours are the same — a DNC that competes in every ZIP code and empowers Democrats from the local to the federal level. For this reason and others, we proudly endorse Tom for DNC chair.”

According to a recent whip count of the DNC chairman race by the Associated Press, Perez leads Rep. Keith Ellison 205-153 out of 224 votes necessary to win the election.  The count also calculated Harrison’s support at 27 votes. If the Associated Press’s calculations are correct, Harrison could possibly push Perez over the top, though the DNC members who have endorsed him are not bound to his decision to back Perez.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who endorsed Ellison early in the contest, sent out a letter to DNC members this afternoon – after Harrison’s announcement – reaffirming his support for Ellison and defending him on Israel:

Other high-profile surrogates for Perez and Ellison have gotten involved in the final days of the race, according to NBC News:

As NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald pointed out, Harrison’s exit makes South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg the default third party candidate who might emerge as a dark horse compromise alternative if neither Perez nor Ellison are able to secure the necessary votes to win the election after multiple rounds of voting.  Buttigieg’s campaign received a major boost on Wednesday when it secured the endorsement of former DNC chairman Governor Howard Dean, who is well regarded within the party and had one its most successful tenures in recent times with victories in the 2006 and 2008 elections.   Buttigieg and Dean will be hosting a lunch for DNC members tomorrow.

DNC Chairman Race Home Stretch: Competing Whip Counts

ATLANTA – In the past few days, at least two news organizations have tried to do a whip count to gauge the state of the race for DNC chairman.

According to The Hill:

  • The Whip Count:
    • Keith Ellison – 105
    • Tom Perez – 57
    • The other candidates had less than a dozen votes each.
  • The Hill’s math only accounts for 162 out of 447 voting DNC members.
  • More than 50 DNC members undecided.

According to the Associated Press:

  • The Whip Count:
    • Perez – 205
    • Ellison – 153
    • Harrison – 27
    • Boynton Brown – 10
    • Buttigieg – 8
    • Greene – 0
  • AP’s math accounts for 403 out of 447 voting DNC members.
  • The magic number to win the race is 224.
  • If AP’s math is correct,
    • Neither of the two frontrunners has the race locked up.
    • Tom Perez is 19 votes shy of winning the race.
    • Jaime Harrison could play role of kingmaker and put Perez over the top with his 27 votes.
      • Even if Harrison and Perez work out some sort of deal along the lines of the one allegedly worked out between Keith Ellison and Ray Buckley, that doesn’t mean that Harrison’s 27 votes are obligated to vote for Perez.
    • Even if Keith Ellison were to win all 44 votes that are unaccounted for, he still comes up short.

Regardless of which story you read, take with a grain of salt, because alliances can shift as candidates gain momentum or drop out through the rounds.  Some promises or commitments may have been made privately, but that doesn’t mean they are binding. Because neither of the two front runners likely has a lock on 224 votes for an outright victory on the first ballot, there will likely be multiple rounds of voting.