Protesters gather outside a press conference room during a special session at the North Carolina legislature in Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The leading candidates to lead the Democratic National Committee in 2017 both leapt into the fray over North Carolina’s Republican legislature, which has passed two bills designed to devolve power away from Governor-elect Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

In an afternoon conference call, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) described the GOP push as a coup and called for the DNC — which has been relatively quiet since the election — to dig in.

“The DNC has an election protection program, and this is at the heart of their mission,” he said. “It needs to step up right now to say this is outrageous, and get lawyers to oppose this undemocratic action that is happening right now. You gotta be in the fight.”

Hours later, outgoing Secretary of Labor Tom Perez delivered a short statement in an email to reporters.

“Governor McCrory is both a model of what is wrong with today’s Republican Party and the rigged system they’re fighting tooth and nail to uphold,” said Perez. “Governor McCrory signed legislation to suppress the vote, discriminated against the LGBTQ community, and now, after voters have rejected his divisive and discriminatory actions, he’s signed a law to curtail the power of his successor. That type of activity may be standard practice in autocracies like Russia, but it has no place in America. That may be why the Trump transition is saying that McCrory will ‘definitely’ get a job in his Administration.”

The responses to the ongoing North Carolina story synced perfectly with how Ellison and Perez have campaigned for the job. Ellison moved first, and chose to open up his statement to reporters. When pushed, he put the North Carolina fight in the context of laws that had been viewed by courts as intended to discriminate against black voters. Perez's statement — the first since he entered the race — included no follow-up and no prescription for how to act against the Republicans apart from to “stand up and fight back.” Cooper has suggested that he will file a lawsuit to stop the laws, passed by a legislature operating from district lines that have been ruled unconstitutional and will be redrawn in 2017.

Two other candidates, Ray Buckley and Jaime Harrison, also are running to be DNC chair. And on Friday, Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Sally Boynton Brown joined the race.