“Division” was the word of the night during Wednesday’s debate between eight candidates who are vying to become the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) next chair.
Elections are this Saturday in Atlanta Georgia, where 447 DNC members will vote to appoint their party’s next chairman.
The candidates who debated were former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez; Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN); South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party Jaime Harrison; Executive Director of the Idaho Democratic Party Sally Boynton Brown; former “Rock the Vote” President Jehmu Greene; U.S. Air Force Veteran Sam Ronan; and attorney Peter Peckarsky. The debate was moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash and Chris Cuomo.
While the candidates differed on how to unite their fractured party, the one topic on which they almost unanimously agreed was their opposition to President Donald Trump.
Ellison, who along with Perez is a leading contender for the chairmanship, said: “Trump has done a number of things which legitimately raise the question of impeachment.”
Perez said a “unified Democratic Party is not only our best hope, it’s Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.”
Accusing Trump of stealing the Democrats’ message, Ellison said, “Trump did say he was for jobs, trade, infrastructure and protecting social security. That’s our message. That’s what we do. That’s why he beat all those other Republicans; because he stole a Democratic message.”
Echoing Ellison, Buttigieg said Trump is “like a computer virus in the American political system. He ties up our minds and our processing power with these equations that don’t even have any solutions until the system overheats and breaks down.”
Greene added: “This man is arrogantly marching us towards fascism.”
Harrison was asked if going negative, and attacking Trump, is is the right strategy for the Democrats. He justified the negativity by saying, “We are in unprecedented times right now… We have to show the American people what we are all about.”
Brown departed slightly from the rest of the group, saying that one area where she agrees with the Republicans is that “the federal government has too much power,” and noting that “we need to make sure that all our states have the ability to come back and follow their local laws and pass those local laws.”
Buttigieg and Ronan stood out as alternatives to the ongoing power struggle between the remnants of the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns, and the progressive-versus-moderate party fault lines .
Howard Dean, for one, has recognized the value of introducing young blood into the Democratic Party. “Most important thing: He’s the outside-the-Beltway candidate,” he said in a ringing endorsement of Buttigieg, hours before Wednesday’s debate, Politico reported. “This party is in trouble. Our strongest age group that votes for us is under 35. And they don’t consider themselves Democrats,” Dean said.
Ellison, who has been dogged by accusations of antisemitism stemming from his past ties with the Nation of Islam and his troubling statements on Israel, criticized Trump for not condemning an alarming rise in antisemitism quickly enough.
“These are false allegations,” Ellison said of being called an antisemite. “I have 300 rabbis and Jewish community leaders who have signed a letter supporting me,” he said. “I have strong support from the Jewish community.”
Meanwhile, the candidates presented different approaches about how to reunite the Democratic Party. Perez suggested it was time to “get back to basics” and Ronan called for introducing new blood.
“We need to get money out of politics,” Ronan said.
Perez called for a change in the Democratic Party’s culture. “We all too frequently give a millennial a seat at the table, then we pat him on the head and say, ‘you got your seat, now shut up.’ And we have to change that approach.”
He added, “Diversity is being invited to the dance, inclusion is being asked to dance, and we need to make sure we are both engaging in diversity and inclusion.”
According to The Hill‘s newly-released survey of DNC members, Ellison has an edge over Perez. “But while both men claim they are close to securing commitments from the majority of the 447 voting members, neither candidate is assured victory,” The Hill noted.
CNN reported that “aides and vote-counters for several candidates say they believe Perez — who says he has commitments of support from 180 of the DNC’s 447 voting members — has a narrow lead over Ellison. But both sides admit they don’t yet have the votes necessary to clinch the job.”
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