- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2017

ATLANTA — Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez is carrying momentum into the hotly contested race for chair of the Democratic National Committee, but DNC members say the race remains tight as they prepare for the highly anticipated vote here on Saturday.

Picking a new chairman is viewed as a chance for the party to start mapping out a comeback plan following a series of bruising election cycles that were punctuated with President Trump’s victory in November.

In spite of attempts to cast it in a different light, DNC members and activists say the race has been a proxy war between Mr. Perez, the preferred candidate of President Obama and moderates, and Rep. Keith Ellison, the favorite of the progressive left, which maintains the party rigged the 2016 presidential primary against Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

Mr. Perez got a boost this week after South Carolina Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison pulled out of the race and threw his support behind Mr. Perez.

The two men campaigned together here Friday at a “Black History Breakfast,” where Mr. Harrison said the “black and brown coalition” was coming together to make history by electing the first Latino chair and Mr. Perez vowed to resist President Trump.

“I am certain we will come out of this united because our unity is our greatest strength and Donald Trump’s worst nightmare,” Mr. Perez said at the breakfast.

“I am running for this because we need a fighter to take that fight to Donald Trump, but we also need a fighter that understands we have to redefine our mission so we are electing people from the school board to the Senate,” he said.

Progressive activists, meanwhile, sent an open letter to members of the DNC Friday urging them to back Mr. Ellison, arguing the Minnesota Democrat is better positioned to channel the energy of activists from around the country that have risen up against Mr. Trump.

“If Keith Ellison is DNC Chair, we can hit the ground running — and because of the preexisting trust that exists between Keith and the grass-roots, every state party would have a head start harnessing the power of the resistance,” the groups — including the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Moveon.org and Democracy for America — said in the letter.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Peter Buttigieg’s stock, meanwhile, also appeared to be on the rise.

The 35-year-old’s strategy is to emerge as an alternative to the front-runners if Mr. Perez and Mr. Ellison fail to secure the 224 votes needed to win.

Mr. Buttigieg appeared a lunch Friday with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who led the DNC from 2005 to 2009 and is credited with adopting at 50-state strategy that helped deliver congressional majorities and put President Obama in the White House.

“Everybody talks about the future is now, well the future is not now unless you vote for it, and this is the future,” Mr. Dean said at a luncheon for Mr. Buttigieg.

“If you want to get these young people into our party, we have to work with them, not tell them what to do … and we have to have someone running the party that looks like them, sounds like them, speaks like them and understands them,” he said.

The final days of the campaign is playing out in a 73-floor hotel here in downtown Atlanta, where the candidates have been busy wooing DNC members and activists have taken over the hallways, touting signs and chanting on behalf of their chosen candidate.

This is the first race for DNC chairman in more than a decade and The Associated Press reported this week that Mr. Perez has 205 of the 224 votes he needs to win the spot. Mr. Ellison has the support of 153 of the 447-member national committee, according to the report.

“I think Tom has the votes,” said Daniel Halpern, a DNC member from Georgia who is supporting Mr. Perez. “If we can close ground in the next 12 hours, I think he can get the votes.”

Mr. Halpern said he believes Mr. Perez “has the ability to work on the moderate side of the equation, as well as the activists side of the equation.”

“For Democrats to be successful, we have to bridge that chasm,” he said.

But Mark Hammond, chairman of the Oklahoma State Democratic Party, said he is voting for Mr. Ellison because he is best equipped to bridge the divide.

“I think Tom is viewed as an insider — a continuation of the Clinton camp,” Mr. Hammond said. “They are not bad people. They are good people. But it is not time to continue down that path.”

He described the race as “very close.”

Undecided members are getting hounded by the candidates and their allies.

“I have heard from high-level labor leaders. I have heard from high-level government officials, mayors, and governors, and a wide array of Democratic officials,” said Ralph Dawson, a DNC member from New York. “It is a difficult choice for me.”

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