WASHINGTON – Rep. Keith Ellison on Wednesday touted his successes in turning out high numbers of voters in his Minneapolis congressional district in hopes of standing out among six others vying for the chief job at the Democratic National Committee.
In a wide-ranging yet nonconfrontational debate at George Washington University, Ellison argued he has a proven record in energizing voter turnout. He said this is partly why Minnesota narrowly stayed blue in November and voted, by just over 4,000 votes, for Hillary Clinton.
“We need people who are going to grass-roots organize, to get on the ground ... knock on doors,” Ellison said. “There are people who are in every single county and precinct in this country who are dying to get involved.”
Ellison is thought to be among the top two or three front-runners in the battle to lead the DNC, and his chief opponent is Tom Perez, President Obama’s outgoing labor secretary.
Voting members — 447 state party chairs and loyalists from all 50 states — will decide on a new party chair at a convention in Atlanta in February. Ellison has said he will resign his long-held Minneapolis congressional seat if he wins.
The group split on how to respond to President-elect Trump, with some saying state parties need to be more involved. Others — including Ellison and Perez — said Democrats need to take the high road and promote messages of how the party is going to fight for regular working-class people.
“He is what we call a target-rich environment,” Perez said of Trump. “You can’t meet him tweet for tweet. We really gotta understand you don’t go to a knife fight with a spoon.”
At one point, a moderator mentioned a whisper campaign that Ellison held anti-Semitic views and asked whether anyone wanted to respond, sparking the other candidates to all stand up and defend Ellison. The six-term congressman has faced questions about past ties to the Nation of Islam.
“Keith is a great guy who works hard each and every day,” said Jaime Harrison, a candidate and Democratic Party chairman of South Carolina. “There isn’t an anti-Semitic bone in his body. We need to focus on the real war right now, and that is against Donald Trump.”