The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Perez claims to be 44 votes away from victory in DNC race

Former labor secretary Tom Perez, center, speaks to Jaime Harrison, left, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, and Jehmu Greene of Texas during a Democratic National Committee forum on Feb. 11 in Baltimore. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

Tom Perez’s campaign for chair of the Democratic National Committee claimed to hit a milestone Tuesday, telling supporters that Louisiana politician and DNC member Arlanda Williams had become his 180th vote — putting the former labor secretary just 44 away from the winning number.

The campaign of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Perez’s closest competitor, pushed back, insisting that the 180 number was unverified and designed to befuddle the undecided DNC members.

“With many strong candidates in the race, we believe that DNC members deserve the respect to make this hard decision without unverifiable public whip counts designed to put a finger on the scale,” said Ellison spokesman Jamie Long. “We have by far the most public support in the race, including dozens of state party chairs and vice chairs, five complete state delegations, and numerous elected officials who serve on the DNC. Most of our supporters prefer to remain private, and we respect that. We will not be releasing our full whip count, but we are on track to win next week and we are confident that we will.”

Just 447 DNC members will vote to choose the party’s chairman, vice chairs, treasurer and secretary on Feb. 25 in Atlanta. While the front-runners have released scores of high-profile endorsements, including former vice president Joe Biden for Perez and the national AFL-CIO for Ellison, most voting DNC members have kept their preferences off the record.

The Perez and Ellison camps have handled that fact in markedly different ways. Ellison’s team has refused to issue a whip count, but people in the whip operation insist that the candidate is in a tight contest with Perez. By contrast, the former labor secretary’s team and allies have offered hard numbers to suggest that the momentum is on his side — and that even if the race goes to multiple ballots, Ellison will struggle.

After a Feb. 1 story from the Associated Press claimed Perez had “as much as a 66-member lead,” Ellison ally and former Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen said the count was “bull—-” but did not suggest an alternative number. Tuesday, as the new count circulated, DNC member and Ellison endorser Melahat Rafiei said the Perez camp was making a mistake if it thought the whip counts would create a sense that the race was over.

“It’s a tactic you use when you’re behind, not when you’re ahead,” Rafiei said. “It’s frustrating for us because it’s one campaign putting a finger on the scale, and it makes you ask if it’d be business as usual if he won.”

At forums, Perez and Ellison have debated New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley; South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Sally Boynton Brown; Fox News commentator Jehmu Greene; and three other candidates who have not held party or elected office.

In conversations with the campaigns and with DNC members, Buttigieg has won good reviews — and become a popular second-tier choice — but has not vaulted into serious contention. Buckley and Harrison have at least double-digit support from DNC members and distinguished themselves at public forums with blistering criticism of how the Obama-era DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign handled resources.

ON Wednesday, Harrison will rally with a number of Congressional Black Caucus members, who have no vote in the process. In the evening, the leading DNC candidates will meet again at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Northwest Washington.