Ellison is a favorite for the position among liberal advocacy groups and lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the runner-up in this year's Democratic presidential primaries. Reid's backing is the latest sign that support for Ellison is broad. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Reid's likely successor, endorsed Ellison for the job on Friday.
The next chairman is scheduled to picked next year by DNC members across the country, who may or may not take their cue from elected officials. Besides Ellison, several other names have emerged as possible successors to interim chairwoman Donna Brazile, a longtime Democratic operative who stepped in after Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) announced her resignation in July.
Among them is Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor, who is seeking to return to the job. He has argued that the party needs a full-time chairman with President-elect Donald Trump about to step into the White House.
On Sunday, Ellison sidestepped a question about whether he would be willing to give up his post in Congress to better serve the party.
“The most important criteria for the DNC chair is going to be vision,” Ellison said during an appearance on ABC News’s “This Week” when asked whether he would resign his position in Congress. “It’s not about one person. It’s about millions of people all working together to protect and advance the interests of working Americans.”
Wasserman Schultz, who continued to serve in Congress during her DNC tenure, was driven from the position after a trove of hacked emails showed favoritism among DNC staff for Clinton over Sanders (Vt.) during the Democratic primaries.
During the interview, Ellison also said the DNC needs to be more focused on building enthusiasm at the grass-roots level than on catering to the party’s big donors.
“I love the donors, and we thank them, but it has to be the guys in the barbershop, the lady at the diner, the folks who are worried about whether that plant is going to close, they’ve got to be our focus,” he said. “That’s how we come back.”
Ellison is expected to make his bid official as early as Monday. Others who have said they are considering bids include former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison and Henry Muñoz III, the DNC’s national finance chairman.
Another name being floated is Ilyse Hogue, a liberal activist who serves as president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a reproductive rights advocacy organization.
Several liberal groups have already started mobilizing behind Ellison.
Sanders has started an online petition drive aimed at members of the DNC to show how much support there is for Ellison among the senator's backers.
And Sunday, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), a Clinton supporter during the primaries, announced that she is backing Ellison and sent a letter to members of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a grass-roots group.
In an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said he believes the next DNC chairman needs to be “a committed progressive, somebody who’s going to help get our message out.”
Asked about Ellison, Booker said his “is one of the names that’s being bandied about that gives me hope and excitement.” But he added, “There’s going to be a process.”
During his ABC interview, Ellison was also asked whether he thought the decision by FBI Director James B. Comey to make public additional scrutiny of Clinton’s emails had cost her the election.
“I think that did not help,” Ellison said. “It certainly . . . changed the conversation.”
“The conversation should have been about middle-class people,” he said. “The conversation should have been about how to raise the minimum wage, strengthen Social Security, but then we start talking about this whole email stuff again.”