Divided Democrats vote for new leader in Trump era

With oppn preparing for 2018 mid-term elections and the next presidential race on the distant 2020 horizon, nothing less than the future of the party is at stake.
Tom Perez. (File photo | AP)
Tom Perez. (File photo | AP)

WASHINGTON: Democrats began voting to pick a new leader today to challenge Republican President Donald Trump as their party struggles to move on from its bitter election defeat last year.

With opposition Democrats preparing for the crucial 2018 mid-term elections and the nation's next presidential race on the distant 2020 horizon, nothing less than the future of the party is at stake.

But while the battle over who chairs the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is a look toward the party's future, some see it as a proxy battle between the supporters of two also-rans: the defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her liberal primary rival Bernie Sanders.

It features front-runners Tom Perez, a Hispanic-American and former secretary of labour under Barack Obama who is the establishment pick; and Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, an African-American lawmaker from the party's progressive wing who has left open the prospect of pushing to impeach Trump.

A third candidate seen in contention, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg -- a gay, 35-year-old Rhodes Scholar and military veteran -- dropped out of the race before the voting today at a DNC meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

During a debate with several DNC candidates on Wednesday night, Perez and Ellison expressed similar views about how they would run the party.

They acknowledged that it needs to take a solid economic message to working-class and middle-class Americans, many of whom said during last year's campaign that they felt abandoned by Democrats.

Perez, 55, said Democrats need to "get back to basics" by making house calls in all 50 states and establishing a year-round organising presence to remind American workers that the Democratic Party represents their values and interests.

"When we lead with our message, our message of economic opportunity, that's how we win," he said during the debate broadcast on CNN.

Perez also warned that Democrats must reform their party's presidential primary system, which he said has created "a crisis of confidence" because of its lack of transparency.

And he and other candidates, well aware that Democrats lost ground to Republicans in state house and governor races, stressed the need to seed the party with new, young talent.

Ellison, 53, is the insurgent in the race.     

He was a Sanders supporter during the Democratic primaries and -- like Perez -- has pledged to reclaim the party's reputation of standing for fair trade, jobs, infrastructure investment and preservation of social security. 

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The New Indian Express