WASHINGTON — As the race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee comes to a close, a former Maryland politician has positioned himself as one of the front-runners.
Thomas Perez, former labor secretary under President Barack Obama and a former secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, emerged as a top contender for the DNC post after he announced his candidacy on Dec, 15.
The other front-runner is Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. Six others also are vying for the chairmanship in the most hotly contested campaign for the party leadership in recent history.
DNC members vote Saturday on their new chairman at their winter meeting in Atlanta. In order to secure the position, a candidate will need 224 of the total 447 party member votes.
Months after Donald Trump’s upset victory over Democratic standard-bearer Hillary Clinton, Perez said in a debate of DNC candidates Wednesday that the Democratic Party needs to fight back against what he called Trump’s “far-right agenda.”
“We have seen from the get-go that this person wants to turn the clock back, and the Democratic Party needs to take the fight to Donald Trump,” Perez said. “When we lead with our values, when we lead with our conviction, that’s how we succeed.”
Ellison said at the same debate, held at the CNN Center in Atlanta that Trump’s actions so far “legitimately raise the questions of impeachment.”
He further called for an investigation to “make sure that nobody can monetize the presidency and make profit off it.”
Perez has picked up endorsements from many key Maryland Democrats.
“We’re proud that he is from Maryland,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said in an interview with Capital News Service. “He is the right message for the Democratic Party: that we need to protect the working class and working families.”
Cardin noted that Perez’s previous work as a former assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, particularly on civil rights, “gave great confidence,” as well as his progressive efforts for working families when he headed the Department of Labor.
“Clearly our party needs to have a more effective message with our supporters, as seen with the presidential election,” Cardin said. “We lost in 2016 and need to regain it in 2018 (in the midterm elections).”
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D- Mechanicsville, has also endorsed Perez.
“The most important role of our next chair will be to rebuild our state and local parties so Democrats can compete up and down the ballot,” Hoyer said in a statement for Capital News Service. “I believe Tom is best equipped to deliver on that challenge.”
Hoyer added that Ellison, Perez’s main opponent, is “a good friend” and a “very effective legislator.”
Ellison has “worked hard to protect our middle class. I hope he will continue to be a leader on these issues,” Hoyer said.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has not endorsed Perez for the race. O’Malley has instead has backed South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“The DNC Chair race is not about the past. It’s not about Washington insiders or the moneyed status quo. It’s about our future,” O’Malley wrote in a post on Medium.
“That’s why I’m supporting Mayor Peter Buttigieg—because our Party needs new leadership and a fresh start,” said O’Malley.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who is also the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman, did not make an endorsement in the DNC race.
“He looks forward to working with whoever becomes the new chair to advance an agenda that creates economic opportunity and protects the freedoms of all Americans,” Van Hollen spokeswoman Bridgett Frey said in a statement.
Former Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman is backing Perez in the race.
“Well, I endorsed Tom because I’ve known him for 20 years,” said Lierman, a senior partner at SP Consulting. “He’s a man of deeds and not just words.”
The DNC is a large organization and Perez has the skills and experience to run one, Lierman said.
Perez has “a terrific record at organizing grassroots campaigns at local, state and federal levels,” Lierman said, who is headed to Atlanta for the winter meeting.