Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee, beating out Rep. Keith Ellison who finished second. Perez immediately named Ellison his deputy chairman.
I've heard both men interviewed about the job, and I wasn't bowled over with Perez. But then I wasn't bowled over by Ellison either. Though I didn't dislike either, and thought they were both bright and thoughtful in their views on politics. Mainly, the person I was hoping would win dropped out of the race quite a while back, Howard Dean. I have no idea why he dropped out, though perhaps he knew he didn't have enough support -- though why he wouldn't have had support, I have no idea why. So, we're back to the beginning.
But I do think it was smart of Perez to bring in Ellison as his second in command, because it immediately assuages any concerns from the somewhat more-progressive Ellison side of the party. And also they complement each other reasonably well.
The thing is, I don't care all that much about who the chair of the DNC is. He's not really "leading" the Democratic Party, and he's not really the face of the party either. He's someone who should be well-spoken when he goes on TV and can make a good case for the issue of the day. But Reince Priebus was the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and I don't think most people considered him The Voice Leading Republicans. He was the hired hit man getting across the party's talking points.
The chair of the party does have a function beyond that, of course. Some of it is to get the agenda out. But some of it, too, is the party I most care about -- and that's organizing states at the grassroots level. I don't think either Perez or Ellison spoke all that much about that (which is why I preferred Dean), but then ultimately the chair of the party isn't really doing that grunt work. It's the 9-5 staffers who operate closer to the ground. It certainly would be helpful to have a chair who makes that an aggressive priority, but in the end it's the staff that will work to get that done.
How well they work at it...well, we'll see. But in some ways, it may take on a life of it's own. On Saturday, for instance, there was a special election in Delaware for one Senate seat which would determine control of the Delaware state senate. The Democratic candidate Stephanie Hansen won by a margin of 58-42 -- but there were several things notable about this:
First, she had 1,000 volunteers during the campaign, and an additional 500 volunteers joined in on Election Day, many of them crossing the border from nearby states to help. To put this in perspective, Democratic state Sen. Dave Sokula said, "That’s more volunteers than I’ve had in nine elections.” And second, though the district leans Democratic, the same Republican candidate John Marino had run in 2014 and lost by only 2 points. This next time around, with Donald Trump now in the White House, that margin grew to 16 points.
This is not proof of anything. But it's a strong starting point to build on. And it's the kind of foundation that whoever the new DNC chair was going to be now has as ammunition. Getting the message out is A Good Thing. Focusing that message in a clear way is A Good Thing. But having an outraged, aggressive army of volunteers to swarm the landscape may well be the best thing.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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