WASHINGTON -- Rep. Keith Ellison got his most formidable competitor in his bid for Democratic National Committee chair -- an Obama administration Cabinet member, outgoing Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Perez's entry into the race brings to life old riffs between establishment and insurgent Democrats that may play out in the battle for the helm of the party. Ellison was an early Bernie Sanders supporter and Perez supported Hillary Clinton. Perez is seen as a pick among the Obama alumni in town and Ellison has secured early endorsements from unions and many in the party's left flank including Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Ellison issued a statement on Thursday: "Secretary Perez is a great public servant and I welcome him to the race. I look forward to discussing how Democrats can speak to all Americans, harness the grassroots to turn out the vote and strengthen our state and local parties."

Ellison announced last week that he would leave his Minneapolis Congressional seat if he won the post in February, when the 447 DNC delegates gather in Atlanta to cast votes.