On Wednesday night, the eight leading candidates for Democratic National Committee chair gathered for a CNN debate, days before Democratic officials and activists make their choice at the end of a three-day party meeting in Atlanta that begins Thursday. The candidates, led by former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), aimed most of their fire at President Trump, though they disagreed on how trenchantly to oppose him, as well as how to heal Democratic divisions lingering from the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders primary fight last year.
Trump's actions already "legitimately raise the question of impeachment," Ellison said, arguing that the president has already violated the Constitution. Perez said Trump "wants to turn the clock back, and the Democratic Party needs to take the fight to Donald Trump," leading with Democratic values and convictions. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said Trump is a "computer virus in the American political system" that Democrats have to fight, "but we can't let him dominate our imagination, because it's our values and our candidates that matter." You can watch a 90-second recap of the debate below.
This is the first heavily contested race for DNC chair in recent history — the job usually involves raising money and supporting candidates behind the scenes. But Democrats have faced years of losses in Congress, state legislatures, and statehouses, and the party is without a clear leader now that Barack Obama is out of office. Perez is the early frontrunner, with about 205 of the 447 total votes, while Ellison has about 153 votes, independent Democratic strategists tell The Associated Press, though Ellison's spokesman said that count is "totally inaccurate" and Ellison is "incredibly confident" of his chances. Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, has 27 votes, while Buttigieg and Idaho Democratic Party chief Sally Boynton Brown have fewer than 20 votes combined, per AP's tally.