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Democrats select Perez as new party chair

February 25, 2017 at 6:08 PM EDT
As Republicans continue to dominate Congress, Democrats on Saturday elected a new leader for their party. Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who won the vote over Rep. Keith Ellison, will serve as chair of the Democratic National Committee. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, who is covering the DNC gathering in Atlanta, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the results.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is covering the DNC gathering in Atlanta and joins me from there to discuss the results and the party’s state.

Domenico, this was a close vote, went to a second ballot. This is kind of an example of the tension inside the party.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, NPR POLITICAL EDITOR: No question about it. I mean, that split between the progressive wing and that more establishment governing wing was on full display because you wound up with Obama’s former Labor Secretary Tom Perez squeaking out a win over Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison with 235 votes out of the 400-plus that were — of all the voting members, he needed 218 to cross the threshold to win.

But on that first round of balloting, Perez was one short and Ellison was at 200. And it took him to that second round. The four candidates ended up dropping up on the and he wound up being able to get past that threshold.

But no question about it, when Perez was named the winner, I was standing right in front a huge crowd of Ellison supporters who continued to keep chanting, “money out of politics,” and didn’t want to hear anything from Perez. Perez made a very deft move by naming Ellison his deputy and that seemed to quiet the crowd.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, these tensions don’t dissipate immediately.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: No, they don’t go away immediately. I think one of the things, though, that people wind up doing — it’s kind of funny to me to see people put this much stock into a party chairman, you know? Like, they’re not the person running for president. They’re not person who, you know, is going to wave a magic wand and change the fact that Democrats are out of power in state legislatures, in governorships, in Congress, you know, for the — at their lowest point of power in more than 100 years, really.

So, this is somebody who is an organizational figure, someone who is supposed to be able to raise money, and that’s not something that Democrats — this group of Democrats wants to necessarily be talking about. They want to talk about how they stop Donald Trump and that’s a lot harder to do for a party chairman.

So, it was interesting me to watch, that especially in comparison with Republicans were in 2009. They did something very similar when they had Michael Steele wind up winning, when the Republican Party didn’t want to go and be aligned with Katon Dawson who was then the South Carolina Party chairman and appeared to be siding with a white Southern Republican when you had the first black president. So, some of those same splits start to emerge here on the Democratic side with them out of power.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You know, both Keith Ellison and Tom Perez said at some points during this contest, it’s not just that we lost the election in November, it’s just that we lost a thousand elections to get to us to this point.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Look, that has been the biggest problem for Democrats over the past decade, really kind of ignoring some of those low-level, down-ballot races and thinking that demography was such destiny that they would always win the presidency. And I had noted before the election, that if Democrats were to lose, it would be a potential real problem for them in — as far as Hillary Clinton losing the presidency, because they are so far out of power when it comes to those state legislatures and when it comes to those governors races.

So, the party chairman is going to have to start at figuring out how to get enough money into the party to build up some of those local parties that really need those wins, those granular level wins and organizing, for as low as school board, frankly, if they want to be able to rise up.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. NPR’s Domenico Montanaro joining us from Atlanta — thanks so much.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Thank you.

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