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Keith Ellison Vying for DNC Chairman

Democrats look to progressive Minnesota Democrat to rehab party

Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison said his party failed to motivate enough people to cast ballots during the just-completed election cycle. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison said his party failed to motivate enough people to cast ballots during the just-completed election cycle. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Keith Ellison made official on Monday his candidacy for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, as the party looks to reinvent itself after the stunning loss of its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

The Minnesota Democrat, who endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries, is a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest Democratic caucus.

Since Election Day, many Democratic leaders have looked to Ellison, 53, to help rebuild and overhaul the party’s focus after Clinton lost to Republican rival Donald Trump.

Democrats also failed to retake the Senate as anticipated, and did not pick up as many seats in the House as party leaders had projected.

Before his formal announcement, Ellison had secured the backing of a host of Democrats in Congress, including Sanders, whose primary campaign caught fire with disenchanted voters, the same group also credited with spurring Trump’s campaign. Ellison currently also serves as the chief deputy whip in the House Democratic leadership.

In making his formal announcement, Ellison pointed to high-profile endorsements he’s received from figures including Massachusets Sen. Elizabeth Warren, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and likely incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York.

“This election cycle, we did not motivate enough people to the ballot box,” Ellison said in a statement. “We must champion the challenges of working families and give voters a reason to show up at the polls in 2018 and beyond.”

Ellison vowed to make connecting with voters a priority “over everything else.”

“We must invest in and empower our state and local parties by creating effective field operations, an enhanced and advanced voter file, and a culture of collaboration between candidates,” Ellison said. “Let’s put the voters first.”

Ellison’s message comes as Democrats question how their massive fundraising prowess failed to win control of either chamber or the White House.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has offered to lead the DNC for a second time.

“The [Democrats] need organization and focus on the young. Need a 50-state strategy and tech rehab. I am in for chairman again,” Dean wrote in announcing his bid on Twitter last week. Dean previously served as chairman from 2005 to 2009, and his 50-state strategy was credited with helping Democrats retake the House and Senate in 2006. 

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Harrison announced on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show Monday night that he’s also throwing his name into the mix of people running for chairman of the DNC.

 The South Carolina congressional delegation to the House and Senate has only one Democrat, Rep. James Clyburn, the assistant Democratic leader who will serve his 13th term.

 Harrison once worked as counsel for Clyburn on Capitol Hill, according to his biography on the state party’s website. He was also executive director of the House Democratic Caucus.

Elections for the DNC chairmanship are expected by March 1 following a presidential election year, according to its bylaws.

Former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down from the post just before the Democratic National Convention in July, just as the party was set to nominate Clinton under a banner of unity.

Her resignation came amid an uproar over purported DNC efforts to discredit Sanders’ presidential campaign.  

Interim DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile has also faced criticism over the election outcome.

Contact Rahman at or follow her on Twitter at @remawriter

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