Former Labor Secretary Thomas Perez—the candidate backed by the Democratic Party’s establishment—was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Sunday, as its members chose a close ally of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to lead the out-of-power party in the era of Donald Trump.
Perez defeated Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the favorite of many progressives, and a collection of lesser-known candidates in a vote of the 435 committee members who participated in the balloting in Atlanta. Perez won on the second ballot after coming a single vote shy of capturing the simple majority needed in the first round of balloting. The final two-way vote was 235-200. In a bid to head off a revolt from Ellison backers, Perez immediately moved to name his rival as deputy chairman, which the party members ratified by acclamation.
As DNC chairman, Perez will be responsible for rebuilding a party that has been decimated in recent years. Democrats lost control of Congress, dozens of governorships, and hundreds of state legislative seats in the last eight years—a period that culminated last November in the most stinging defeat of all: Clinton’s loss to Trump.
To the dismay of many rank-and-file Democrats, the race for DNC chairman became something of a proxy fight that mirrored the presidential primary battle between Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Perez won the support of Clinton and Obama confidantes, while Sanders and progressive groups rallied around Ellison, a staunch liberal who predicted early on that Trump would take hold of the Republican Party. And in a battle to lead the party’s central fundraising and recruitment organization, it was not a big surprise that the establishment’s favored candidate won. Both candidates appealed to committee members to unify behind the winner—a nod to the lingering bitterness among the most fervent Sanders and Ellison backers stemming from the 2016 primary process.