- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is embracing the idea of being of being considered the “wild card” in the race to become the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.

For the second time in as many weeks, Mr. Buttigieg shared a stage Wednesday with six other contenders for chairman, including favorites Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, for a debate.

The South Bend mayor made the case that he comes with limited baggage.

“The whole idea of our party is to empower different people, new voices,” he said at a forum at George Washington University sponsored by The Huffington Post. “It is part of what I am doing getting into this race and I know I am not the most famous name here but the whole beauty of our system and our process is that it invites new people into it.”

“We are going to have to do that if we want to show that we are not a party that is driven by Washington, that the Democratic Party doesn’t take its instructions from the mothership,” he said, adding that the solutions will come from “states, our territories and communities like mine.”

New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Raymond Buckley, South Carolina Chairman Jaime Harrison, Sally Boynton Brown, executive director of the Idaho Democrats, and former Fox News commentator Jehmu Greene also participated in the debate.

For the past eight years, President Obama picked the chair, but the responsibility now falls onto the shoulders of the 447 DNC members following Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.

Over the past year the DNC has been a lightening rod for controversy — shrouded in questions of impartiality from hacked emails that showed members favored Hillary Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary and led to the resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

The next chair will be tasked with restoring credibility and rebuilding the party on the national and state levels in the wake of a series of disappointing election cycles that have bolstered Republicans.

On Wednesday, the candidates said the DNC must invest most in state parties, and revisit the role that superdelegates play in the nomination process.

They were less unified over whether the party should ban donations from lobbyists — though they universally agreed via a show of hands that the party should be more involved in organizing protests with Mr. Trump in The White House.

“Heck yes, because these are unconventional times,” Ms. Greene said.

The race has been billed as many as a proxy war between Mr. Perez, who is viewed as the favored candidate of the Obama loyalists, and Mr. Ellison, who has been endorsed by Mr. Sanders..

Both men downplayed the story line.

Mr. Ellison complimented Mr. Perez’s work at the Department of Labor and said he is “absolutely” committed to calling on Mr. Sanders to share his fundraising lists with the party.

“We are going to call upon everybody to give all the resources they have to organize everybody,” Mr. Ellison said. “We are in an emergency situation.”

Mr. Perez, meanwhile, joined his colleagues in defending Mr. Ellison from accusations of anti-Semitism and in vowing to rally behind whoever is elected.

Mr. Perez also dismissed concerns over whether a former member of the Obama administration, which oversaw the disappointing election, is the best fit for the job.

“I am a big believer in data analytics, but data analytics are no substitute for making house calls,” Mr. Perez said, alluding to Mr. Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “You can’t show up at a church every fourth October and call that a persuasion strategy. You have to have organizers on the ground 12 months a year.”

Still, Democratic observers, including former DNC Chair Howard Dean, have said that Mr. Perez and Mr. Ellison are “both handicapped by being perceived rightly or wrongly as other people’s candidates” and that hurts them in an election where voters are likely looking for an outsider.

“The wild card is Pete Buttigieg,” Mr. Dean told Prospect Magazine this week. “He’s an outsider, he’s very young, he’s a vet who served two tours in Afghanistan, and openly gay — he checks a lot of boxes. And he turns out to be a really good organizer. “

Mr. Buttigieg has driven home a similar message and pounced on Mr. Dean’s remarks, blasting out the comments in a “Howard Dean praises Pete!” fundraising email Wednesday.

“Governor Dean is widely considered to be one of the most effective chairs in the history of the DNC. He created the 50-state strategy that led to overwhelming electoral success in 2006 and 2008,” the email said. “His praise for Pete shows our campaign’s strong and growing momentum!”

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