After losing the US presidency in a stunning defeat, and failing to win either house of Congress in the 2016 elections, Democrats are looking ahead. And they are considering a black Muslim from Minnesota to lead the way.
Senator Bernie Sanders came close to securing the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 with his populist message. On Thursday he threw his support behind Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison to chair the Democratic National Committee, which sets the party’s strategy. Donna Brazile, who has been serving as interim chair, is expected to step aside; DNC members will vote for a new head in early 2017.
Ellison, 53, is a black progressive who in 2006 became the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. He was the second congressman to publicly endorse Bernie Sanders in his bid for president last October before later backing Hillary Clinton when she became the nominee. Ellison is known for his unapologetically liberal views; he is both pro-choice and a proponent of gay rights. He’s also enjoying a moment in the spotlight, as a July 2015 clip in which he predicts a Trump presidency has gone viral:
“We need a Democratic National Committee led by a progressive who understands the dire need to listen to working families, not the political establishment or the billionaire class,” Sanders said in his announcement of support for Ellison, who is the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, an alliance of legislators who promote a progressive agenda.
New York senator Chuck Schumer, who will serve as the senate minority leader starting in January, is also backing Ellison—a move that could give Ellison’s candidacy as DNC chair a major lift. “Without a Democratic White House, Schumer’s view is that the DNC is where the grass-roots organizing, in sync with legislative battles, should be organized,” a spokesman for Schumer said.
Elizabeth Warren, another popular—and populist—Democratic senator, said in an interview on The Rachel Maddow Show Thursday that Ellison would be “terrific” in the DNC role.
Two other Democrats have thrown their hat in the ring, as well: Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who previously chaired the DNC from 2005 to 2009, and former presidential candidate and Maryland governor Martin O’Malley. There are reports that labor secretary Tom Perez is also interested in the job.
If Ellison wins the position, it would be a clear sign that the Democratic Party is moving leftward to embrace a populist message championed by the likes of Sanders and Warren.
In a recent conference call for members of Democracy for America, a grassroots political organization, Ellison described his vision for the role: “I think we need a chair who’s going to go lead some door knocks around this country in the off year, so people get to know them and get to feel like this is their party, this is the party of working men and women of this country,” he said.
Ellison has said he will announce formally on Monday (Nov. 14) whether he will run for the position, though it’s known in Democratic circles that he has been angling for the job.