Democrats as­sem­ble in Den­ver to re­group

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Ea­son

Reel­ing from a dis­as­trous elec­tion, na­tional Demo­cratic Party in­sid­ers gath­ered in Den­ver on Fri­day to be­gin pick­ing up the pieces of a coali­tion that ap­pears badly bro­ken.

African-Amer­i­can turnout was down, blue-col­lar work­ers over­whelm­ingly ditched the party in fa­vor of Repub­li­cans, and even as Hil­lary Clin­ton won the pop­u­lar vote by more than 2.3 mil­lion votes, Democrats got whacked up and down the bal­lot in bat­tle­ground states.

“We should not sug­ar­coat that,” said Colorado Demo­cratic Party chair­man Rick Pala­cio, who mod­er­ated the event. “Repub­li­cans have not been this well po­si­tioned since the 1920s.”

With the vic­tory of Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump, Repub­li­cans will hold both cham­bers of Con­gress and the pres­i­dency for the first time since the Ge­orge W. Bush era. And the party con­trols a near­record num­ber of gov­er­nor’s of­fices and state leg­is­la­tures.

The first mat­ter at hand Fri­day: pick­ing a new leader for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, the em­bat­tled in­sti­tu­tion whose in­ner squab­bles and con­tro­ver­sies spilled into the gen­eral elec­tion even as ri­val can­di­dates Clin­ton and U.S. Sen. Bernie San­ders called pub­licly for unity.

At the “Fu­ture of the Party Fo­rum” at the Down­town Hy­att Re­gency, four prom­i­nent Democrats were ex­pected to give their pitch on how they would re­shape the or­ga­ni­za­tion if given the chance to lead. Sev­eral oth­ers are also eye­ing the job.

But one who was con­sid­ered a front-run­ner, for­mer Vermont Gov.

Howard Dean, on Fri­day with­drew his name from the hat.

“I am not go­ing to be a can­di­date for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man­ship,” he said in a video mes­sage.

The other three can­di­dates — Ray Buck­ley, chair­man of the New Hamp­shire Demo­cratic Party; U.S. Rep. Keith El­li­son of Min­nesota; and Jaime Har­ri­son, the chair­man of the South Carolina Demo­cratic Party — all de­liv­ered vari­a­tions on the same mes­sage: The DNC has to adapt to sur­vive.

“We need to get our own house in or­der,” Buck­ley said. “We need rad­i­cal change.”

All three can­di­dates en­dorsed a “50-state strat­egy” in which the na­tional party would do more to sup­port races up and down the bal­lot. And they agreed that the party needs to do more to build a deeper bench of po­lit­i­cal tal­ent — mean­ing can­di­dates as well as cam­paign op­er­a­tives and grass­roots ac­tivists. But there were dif­fer­ences too. El­li­son, a fa­vorite of the party’s pro­gres­sive wing, stressed the need to beef up the Demo­cratic grass­roots voter turnout ap­pa­ra­tus.

And, he said, Democrats should have learned a les­son from how blue-col­lar vot­ers — a long­time sta­ple of the Demo­cratic base — de­liv­ered much of the in­dus­trial Mid­west for Trump.

He said Democrats need to “shut up and lis­ten to folks, not just tell them what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

El­li­son has been by far the most vis­i­ble of the con­tenders, rolling out dozens of en­dorse­ments, in­clud­ing that of two pro­gres­sive sen­a­tors — San­ders, I-Vt., and El­iz­a­beth War­ren, D-Mass. — and that of some es­tab­lish­ment Democrats, in­clud­ing Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the in­com­ing mi­nor­ity leader.

The party’s next chair­man is sched­uled to be picked in Fe­bru­ary by DNC mem­bers from across the coun­try. The new chair­man will suc­ceed in­terim chair­woman Donna Brazile, a long­time Demo­cratic op­er­a­tive who stepped in af­ter Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz, D-Fla., re­signed in July. Brazile has since come un­der fire for leak­ing CNN de­bate ques­tions to Clin­ton.

Those con­tro­ver­sies served as an ev­er­p­re­sent back­drop at Fri­day’s fo­rum.

Buck­ley, for one, spoke at length about the need to re­build trust. He laid out a se­ries of re­forms de­signed to give the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee more con­trol over spend­ing and the pres­i­den­tial de­bate sched­ule, which was widely crit­i­cized for pick­ing dates that seem­ingly guar­an­teed low view­er­ship.

“Maybe if the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the DNC had a role in that we would say maybe this isn’t the right thing to do,” Buck­ley said.

Har­ri­son, mean­while, point­edly ques­tioned the DNC’s strat­egy in prior elec­tions, say­ing it was too fo­cused on the pres­i­den­tial race.

“This needs to be the very last elec­tion cy­cle where the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date takes over the DNC,” he said to ap­plause. “… When we ig­nore red states, we are in essence say­ing ‘Repub­li­cans, you take those U.S. sen­a­tors, and you take all those Con­gress mem­bers.’ ”

Dean was a late scratch from the fo­rum, but spoke first via a video mes­sage in which he pledged to sup­port the even­tual chair, and made a call for unity, a com­mon theme of the day.

“We can­not al­low this to be a proxy fight be­tween Bernie San­ders’ peo­ple and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s peo­ple,” said Dean, a for­mer DNC chair.

But even as he with­drew his name from the hat, Dean seem­ingly threw wa­ter on El­li­son’s can­di­dacy, stress­ing that be­ing DNC chair is “a full-time job.” The im­plicit crit­i­cism: a U.S. Con­gress­man doesn’t have time to do it prop­erly.

In re­sponse to an au­di­ence ques­tion on the sub­ject, El­li­son said he hadn’t de­cided whether he would re­sign his Con­gres­sional seat, but if cho­sen, the DNC would be his “first pri­or­ity.”

Still, ma­jor dis­agree­ments be­tween the can­di­dates were rare. They all said the party needed to re­claim its iden­tity as cham­pion of the work­ing class. And they agreed that the party had to do more to en­er­gize mil­len­ni­als, a gen­er­a­tion that over­whelm­ingly leans lib­eral.

Fri­day’s fo­rum was hosted by the As­so­ci­a­tion of State Demo­cratic Chairs as part of that or­ga­ni­za­tion’s na­tion­wide con­fer­ence. The DNC Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, com­prised of na­tional party lead­ers and state chairs, is sched­uled to meet Satur­day morn­ing.

David Zalubowski, The As­so­ci­ated Press

U.S. Rep. Keith El­li­son, D-Minn., ges­tures Fri­day in Den­ver as he takes the stage to ad­dress a fo­rum on the fu­ture of the Demo­cratic Party.

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