Democratic party chairman Tom Perez, a former Obama cabinet member, told fellow Democrats on Saturday in Las Vegas that unity is the key in combating President Donald Trump. Perez called the president an "existential threat" to the republic. "We have the most dangerous president in American history and one of the most reactionary Congresses in American history," Perez said as he addressed the first Democratic National Committee gathering since taking over the leadership in February. Perez said that "a culture of corruption" extends into the current presidential cabinet, as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Perez, as chairman of the DNC, may want to watch what Brandon Dillon is doing in Michigan to win back a state that Donald Trump carried in 2016.

Party dissension and fundraising blues

Infra-party squabbles and leadership jostling only distract Democrats, Perez said, from the goal of displacing Republicans in Washington. Perez’s appointments of 75 at-large members of the national party committee, and to influential party committees, may be contributing to misgivings within party ranks and among donors. By placing younger and more diverse persons, Perez is also shoving aside prominent Democrats who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont over Hillary Clinton last year and then supported Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota over Perez for the party’s top job. Perez spent some time mending fences at the DNC gathering, and also apologized publicly to committee members for not reaching out to them before announcing his party appointments. But he was not apologetic over his general aims. "If someone ever asks you which wing of the party you belong to, tell 'em you belong to the accomplishment wing of the Democratic Party," he said, "because you're trying to get s--- done. That's what we're trying to do here, folks. We're trying to move the ball forward."

Dissension within the Democratic party reached a boiling point during the 2016 presidential season when Sander’s supporters accused the DNC of slanting the nomination process in Clinton’s favor and shutting down the Vermont senator who still wants to drive the party further to the left. The same sentiments carried over to the race between Perez and Ellison for the party chairmanship. 

The Democrats are facing challenges as they look to mid-term elections. Besides needing to flip at least 24 seats in order to regain control of the House of Representatives, Democrats face defending 10 incumbents in states that pulled the lever for Trump in 2016. They also seek to increase the number of Democrats in governorships from the current 15 seats. Democrats also want redress for what they see as gerrymandering that favors Republicans in state legislatures. Eric Holder, Obama’s former attorney general, is leading a political action group, with fundraising support from Obama, that is supporting candidates in states where gerrymandering gives Democrats an uphill path to majorities. Holder says Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, among other states, as where Republicans "picked their voters" with districts that "are impressive in their geographic creativity but they are destructive to representative democracy."

But in the essential area of fundraising, the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Obama is facing perhaps the bigger challenge. As it struggles to raise money, many donors are refusing to chip in. Party operatives worry that they will not have the funds needed for the Democratic National Committee to build up get-out-the-vote efforts for the coming midterms and 2020. While the State Party Innovation Fund had been expected to have $10.5 million in the kitty for grants to state parties, the DNC had but $7 million in its main account as of the beginning of October. , which also has to cover its central responsibilities and salaries. Even while individual candidates, groups, and candidates associated with the Democrat appear to have funding, the DNC is competing with various resistance-minded groups for donors’ cash.  

Perez: no fundraising experience

Following the controversy over last year’s resignation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz from the party chairmanship, the party’s finance organization is still being built up, according to DNC treasurer Bill Derrough, who spoke at the recent party meeting in Las Vegas. Party chair Perez has no previous fundraising experience, but has been going around the country for months to capture funds from new donors and inspire disillusioned contributors. He has visited spots such as Martha’s Vineyard, Seattle, and San Francisco, as well as secondary locations. Perez is facing challenges, especially since the defeat of Jon Ossoff in a special election this summer in Georgia and a lack of an analysis of the presidential defeat.

The party had long depended on Barack Obama to bring in supporters and donors in barnstorming rallies. But so far, Obama has committed to just one event for the DNC since he left office. The September event in Washington featuring Obama brought in $2.5 million, which was less than DNC had anticipated. DNC members themselves have now been asked to give or raise $1,000 each, a novel development for the party.

Michigan microcosm

Brandon Dillon, the Michigan Democratic Party chair, told Michigan Public Radio earlier this month that Michigan -- which is a must win for any Democrat presidential candidate in 2020 -- is “competitive state” that can be won “provided we do the work that is needed to do.” Public radio host Lester Graham noted that the governor, lieutenant governor, both chambers of the state legislature, and most U.S. Representatives in the state are Republicans. In response, Dillon said that despite the dearth of Democrats holding statewide offices (other than the two U.S. senators), he is convinced that voters will want to challenge the “status quo.” The embodiment of that status quo is current state attorney general, Bill Schuette, a seasoned Republican gubernatorial candidate. Dillon said that Schuette has gone from one government job to another for the last 35 years “on the backs of taxpayers.”

As for fundraising, Dillon said that the party has hired six new organizers, which he said is a departure from normal practice during an off-year. Donations are coming from “grass-roots,” Dillon said, but “obviously can’t compete from money flooding in from Republicans and the DeVos family.” Dick DeVos is the husband of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Prince Devos, and is the former CEO of Amway. He and his father, Amway co-founder Richard DeVos. Dillon was also critical of a bill that Gov. Rick Snyder (R) recently signed into law, which allows political candidates to solicit unlimited contributions for independent political action committees (Super PACs), which include labor unions and corporations. The lack of so-called “dark money,” said Dillon, is not at the top of list of voters’ concerns.

Dillon spoke to the effect Donald Trump had on politics in Michigan. He claimed that there has been an “explosion of activism” among Democrats since Trump’s inauguration, even while he admitted that Democrat voters who had supporter Democrats and Barack Obama in the past voted for Trump in 2016. Dillon said Democrats have to show them that what Trump has delivered is “phony.” Democrats were “shocked and dismayed” that Trump not only won the presidency but also a state like Michigan. He said he was pleased that Michiganders have joined groups such as Michigan Indivisible -- a group that seeks to Trump’s impeachment -- and state and local party committees. He said that Democrats currently enjoy a good supply of candidates, while relying on its “progressive” message.



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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