The Race for DNC Chair Begins
At the Dawn of the Post-Obama Post-Clinton Era, Democrats Look for New Leaders
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s shocking losses, Democrats were left reeling to figure out what to do next: what they stand for, where their party goes, and who will emerge as the next generation of leaders. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid’s time as leaders of their party is almost over, and they will likely be respected elder party statesmen (and woman) in the same way many of their predecessors are regarded. Democrats have four years to figure out who they are and how to present a viable alternative to President Donald Trump in 2020, a crucial election not just because it’s a presidential year but because it’s also a census year. The outcomes of the 2020 races will determine congressional redistricting as well as the number of votes states get in the Electoral College for the following decade. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer will lead the Democratic minorities in Congress, which will have to deal with united Republican executive and legislative branches which are expected to begin the next term by dismantling President Obama’s accomplishments and legacy.
The first step in the post-Obama/post-Clinton Democratic Party is the election of a new Democratic National Committee chair, to replace interim chair Donna Brazile who had to guide the party through the final months of the 2016 election after Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation following the initial WikiLeaks email dump. The thinking among some journalists and political observers is this could be a rehashed and potentially messy proxy war of the Clinton-Sanders Democratic primaries. The original plan was for President-elect Hillary Clinton’s choice to be DNC chair to be elected after her inauguration in January. Now, sources tell Politico that the election will take place sometime in February or March. Here are the names, listed by alphabetical order, that have been declared or rumored for the position in the past few months and the last few days after Clinton’s loss:
Xavier Becerra: Member of Congress representing California’s 34th District, which includes downtown and northeast Los Angeles. He is the outgoing Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the #4 ranking Democrat in the leadership and the highest-ranking Latino in the party. He was considered as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton.
Raymond Buckley: Chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party and DNC Vice Chair. New Hampshire was one of the few bright spots for Democrats in an otherwise dismal 2016 election with Maggie Hassan’s Senate race victory and Carol Shea-Porter’s House race victory. There was already buzz about him being potentially the next DNC chair going back to the Democratic National Convention last summer. During a more recent interview with NH1 News Political Director Paul Steinhauser, Buckley said he had been receiving calls encouraging him to run for the position. He would be the first openly gay political party leader in history. (Former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman came out after he left the job.) As DNC vice chair and chairman of the New Hampshire Democrats, Buckley was neutral during the 2015–2016 primaries, but has had historical ties to the Clintons, but also said he had a “great relationship” with Bernie Sanders, noting he hired two Sanders New Hampshire operatives to join his staff.
Howard Dean: Former governor of Vermont and DNC chairman from 2005–2009. He oversaw the rebuilding of the Democratic Party after the 2004 election with the 50-State Strategy, meant to rebuild state party infrastructure and outreach efforts, particularly in traditionally red states where Democrats might not have spent money or time in in the past. During his tenure, the Democrats took over both chambers of Congress in 2006 and won a historic presidential election with Obama in 2008. He was also a pretty fierce partisan brawler in opposing George W. Bush and Republicans in general as a 2004 presidential candidate and as DNC chairman, which is something Democrats would probably appreciate from him in potentially taking on Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, or Mitch McConnell. Two days after the 2016 election, Dean tweeted, “The [Democrats] need organization and focus on the young. Need a fifty State strategy and tech rehab. I am in for chairman again.” Dean was a Hillary Clinton supporter during the 2015–2016 primaries.
Keith Ellison: Member of Congress representing Minnesota’s Fifth District, which includes Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs. He currently serves on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which decides committee assignments and sets the House Democratic caucus agenda, and serves as chief deputy whip to Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, the #2 Democrat in the House. He is also the co-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He was the first African American to represent Minnesota in Congress, and the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. Looked at purely on the basis of optics, having an African American Muslim from the Upper Midwest — the region of the country that secured Trump’s victory — as a leading national voice of opposition to Donald Trump could be a powerful message and messenger. This video clip of Ellison on ABC’s This Week from July 2015 warning of the possibility of a President Trump has gone viral in the past few days. Ellison was a Bernie Sanders supporter during the 2015–2016 primaries. He has received backing in recent days for the DNC chairmanship from Sanders, Schumer, and Elizabeth Warren.
Jennifer Granholm: Former governor of Michigan. She was a top Hillary Clinton surrogate and co-chair of the Clinton transition team, and seen as a possible front-runner for the position if Clinton won the election. She told Politico in the days after the election that she was “not interested” in the job, and that Keith Ellison would be “great,” while also mentioning Becerra and Housing Secretary Julián Castro as possible candidates.
Jaime Harrison: Chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. A former aide to #3 House Democrat James Clyburn, he broke a barrier by becoming the first African American elected to the post in 2013. He is also a principal at the Podesta Group, the lobbying firm founded by Tony and John Podesta — Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman — which raised questions about his impartiality before the South Carolina primary earlier this year about whether or not the Democratic Party establishment was treating Bernie Sanders fairly. (Hacked DNC emails published by WikiLeaks during the Democratic National Convention last summer showed that some elements within the party weren’t impartial during the primary, resulting in the resignations of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and several staffers.) In response to the speculation about the race for DNC chairman, Harrison recently tweeted, “I’m blown away by the tons of calls, emails, and texts urging me to run for DNC Chair… praying about it. I’ll decide soon!”
Steve Israel: The outgoing member of Congress who represented New York’s 3rd District which covers parts of Queens and Long Island, and former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He told Politico at the beginning of this year that he would be retiring from office to “pursue new passions and develop new interests, mainly spend more time writing my second novel.” Newsday reported his name was being floated for the DNC chairman position at the convention last summer in the aftermath of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.
Jason Kander: Missouri Secretary of State. Kander recently ran and lost the race for Missouri Senate by 3 points, outperforming Hillary Clinton in a red state Donald Trump won by 19 points. A former military intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan and only 35 years old, he is considered one of the promising stars in the party after having run an unexpectedly close race in a Republican state. He declined to run for reelection as Secretary of State to focus on the Senate race, which means he leaves office next year.
Minyon Moore: Former DNC CEO who previously served as a political adviser in the Clinton White House. One potential problem is the fact that she was caught up in an investigation into a possible undisclosed financing of a pro-Hillary Clinton get out the vote effort in at least four states during the 2008 primaries. She has also operated mostly out of the public eye throughout her career, which is a sharp contrast from the very public nature of the DNC chairman position.
Martin O’Malley: Former mayor of Baltimore, former governor of Maryland (who was also a partial basis for the character of Tommy Carcetti on HBO’s The Wire) and 2016 presidential candidate who dropped out of the race early on. He tweeted, “Since the election, I have been approached by many Democrats who believe our party needs new leadership. I’m taking a hard look at DNC Chair because I know how badly we need to reform our nominating process, articulate a bold progressive vision, recommit ourselves to higher wages and a stronger middle class, and return to our roots as a nationwide, grassroots party.”
R.T. Rybak: Former mayor of Minneapolis, DNC vice chair, and the first mayor of a major U.S. city to endorse Barack Obama for president in 2007. He is currently the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation and on the board of Generation Next.
Stephanie Schriock: President of Emily’s List, an organization that encourages pro-choice Democratic women to run for office. She previously served as Howard Dean’s finance director during his 2004 campaign, as well as campaign manager for Jon Tester’s 2006 Senate race in Montana and Al Franken’s 2008 Senate race in Minnesota.