DNC chair hope­fuls adopt ‘re­sis­tance’

The Washington Post Sunday - - NEWS - BY DAVID WEIGEL david.weigel@wash­post.com

bal­ti­more — On Satur­day af­ter­noon, Thomas Perez, the for­mer sec­re­tary of la­bor run­ning to chair the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, told his sup­port­ers to be proud of the uni­fy­ing race they had run.

“We have ex­is­ten­tial threats. We are a united Demo­cratic Party,” Perez told or­ga­niz­ers who had just fin­ished their boxed lunches. “It’s so dis­ap­point­ing for some in the me­dia, be­cause there’s no chair-throw­ing. No­body’s go­ing to ask you about the size of your hands.”

Mo­ments later, when Perez went out­side to talk to DNC mem­bers, a sup­porter of Rep. Keith El­li­son (D-Minn.) hounded him. As re­porters watched, and staffers del­i­cately blocked his path to Perez, the man shouted about an ap­pear­ance in Kansas where Perez had ac­ci­den­tally called the 2016 pri­mary “rigged,” ac­cus­ing the can­di­date of “ly­ing” to pan­der to sup­port­ers of Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.).

Satur­day’s “fu­ture fo­rum” was the last DNC gath­er­ing be­fore Feb. 25, when Democrats will gather in At­lanta to elect new lead­ers. Over six pub­lic de­bates and a stream of TV in­ter­views, the lead­ing can­di­dates had found them­selves in com­bat­ive agree­ment, ar­gu­ing for a party that in­vests more in ev­ery state, dis­agree­ing only about who should get them there.

The meet­ing here did not re­solve that and show­cased how the elon­gated race has de­layed the fi­nal reck­on­ing over the party’s 2016 pri­mary re­sult and the test of whether Democrats can chan­nel the protests against Pres­i­dent Trump break­ing out ev­ery week­end.

“We can­not move for­ward if we con­tinue to swim in this quick­sand of anger,” said Yvette Lewis, a for­mer Mary­land Demo­cratic Party chair and cur­rent DNC mem­ber. “That anger needs to be di­rected at Don­ald Trump.”

Perez, who is seen to have built a small lead in the race, had hit a trip­wire while try­ing to calm nerves. In his speeches to lo­cal Democrats, and lis­ten­ing ses­sions in places where the party had lost badly, he had taken to say­ing that the 2015-era DNC un­fairly sched­uled late de­bates to ben­e­fit Hil­lary Clin­ton’s can­di­dacy, but that the pri­mary it­self was fair. At one ap­pear­ance, in Kansas, he had been un­clear about what was “rigged,” but he had cleaned it up on Twit­ter. That none­the­less started a round of com­men­tary and an­gry so­cial me­dia, be­hav­ior that has wore down DNC mem­bers. One rea­son that rel­a­tively few of them have made pub­lic en­dorse­ments is angst about be­ing hounded by calls and emails from sup­port­ers of El­li­son, San­ders’s choice for the job — an echo of the long sum­mer of 2016, when San­ders sup­port­ers bad­gered the DNC mem­bers whose su­perdel­e­gate sta­tus the­o­ret­i­cally gave them the right to deny Clin­ton the nom­i­na­tion.

The long-last­ing bit­ter­ness has ex­hausted some Democrats, who sim­ply want a chair in place.

But for some DNC mem­bers, the in­ten­sity of the post-elec­tion pro­gres­sive move­ment has cooled off fears that re­ject­ing El­li­son would lead to San­ders sup­port­ers stay­ing out­side of the party. Win­nie Wong, an Oc­cupy Wall Street vet­eran and San­ders or­ga­nizer who helped write the prin­ci­ples for the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton and its sis­ter marches, said at a Bal­ti­more rally for El­li­son that the DNC race’s out­come mat­tered less than some peo­ple thought, as Democrats were scram­bling to get be­hind the move­ment.

At his rally, and at the de­bate it­self, El­li­son com­manded larger crowds of sup­port­ers than Perez but re­peat­edly re­fused to por­tray him as a threat to the grass roots.

“We are all friends up here,” he said. “When Tom was sec­re­tary of la­bor, I had no bet­ter friend. There was no bet­ter ad­vo­cate.”

Perez him­self got one more chance to tackle whether the 2016 pri­mary had been slanted, and what the party needed to do to pre­vent an­other, em­bit­ter­ing con­test. There was no con­fu­sion this time.

“We need to set the pri­mary de­bate sched­ule long in ad­vance,” Perez said, “so there can be no doubt that some­one is try­ing to put their thumb on the scales of jus­tice.”

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