The rally, organized days earlier by Sanders's group Our Revolution, ended up raising the curtain for Thursday's expected announcement that Secretary of Labor Tom Perez will enter the DNC race. Perez is holding a call with a half-dozen state party chairs — all of whom can vote on the DNC leadership — on Thursday afternoon. Ellison's opponents, numerous but divided, point out that he has trumpeted support from state chairs who can vote as well as big name pols who cannot.
Sanders fit that bill. In a short speech introducing Ellison, he repeated the themes of his primary campaign, and of Our Revolution, created when that campaign ended. "We must transform the Democratic Party from a top-down party to a bottom-up party, to create a grass-roots organization of the working families of this country," he said. "Whatever the leadership of the Democratic Party has been doing over the last many years has failed."
He added a subtle swipe at Perez, who'd taken the Obama administration's position on trade: "Unlike some of the other candidates who are running for chair, Keith knew from day one that the TPP was a disaster."
Ellison, who often departed from his notes, combined a broad plan for transforming the party with an argument about how it could win back lost voters. "We don't need to decide between social justice and economic justice," he said. "We've got to have all of that. If we don't stand up for both, we won't have either one, because they'll use tribalism and manipulation to divide us. ... Raising the minimum wage is winning as a ballot initiative, but Democrats aren't winning. They like our ideas, but they're not voting for our candidates."
In her speech, Weingarten presented Ellison as the momentum candidate in a race that won't be decided for 10 more weeks. "The entire labor movement has now endorsed Keith Ellison," she said. "I am willing to follow him everywhere, because we need to get back to that trust and that engagement. You saw what Trump did — he found a way, with a volume of lies, to undermine trust in every institution we believe in."
That overstated Ellison's support from labor — many leaders of which had gotten to know Perez personally. After the AFL-CIO backed Ellison, a coup for his campaign, International Association of Fire Fighters president Harold Schaitberger wrote a scorching letter accusing the union of steering the vote.
"Your actions with respect to this process demonstrate that your words ring hollow," Schaitberger wrote AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka on Nov. 30. "A single name on the ballot more resembles an attempt at a coronation in a totalitarian regime rather than an election within the House of Labor. Frankly, this causes me great concern that those who may call into question the integrity of our labor movement will now have more ammunition to use against us when we are in the trenches."
Ellison, who has not talked about that intra-labor controversy, used Wednesday night's speech to preview how labor and Democrats could attack Trump. "He said he'd fight for little people, but he got a secretary of education who's against public schools," said Ellison. "He said he was gonna help working people, but his labor secretary — another billionaire, who makes his billions on the backs of fast food workers — is against the minimum wage."
Ellison said that Democrats had a winning argument to make to white working-class voters, and could at the same time give Black Lives Matter activists "a space where they can express themselves" electorally.
"There's a whole lot of folks where, after they lose that health care, they're gonna be annoyed," said Ellison. "Can we not say 'Rust Belt' anymore? I'm from Minnesota — I don't feel rusty. People in Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin don't feel rusty. We lose these states we should win because we have this strategy where we only talk to certain people. What if we talk to everybody?"