Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean endorsed DNC candidate Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday, with a media tour that began on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and continued on a call with reporters. On the call, Dean said that the 35-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., is uniquely positioned to connect the Democratic Party with the “rising” electorate, including millennials who oppose President Trump but vote infrequently.
“They elected Obama twice, and they voted for Hillary, but they don’t turn out in midterm elections,” Dean said. “They’re very loyal to us but they don’t think they’re Democrats because they don’t like institutions.”
Dean is the fifth former party chairman to endorse Buttigieg, with a winning record — and “50-state strategy” — that the 10 remaining candidates for the chairmanship have repeatedly harked back to. Most of those candidates will appear Wednesday night in a CNN-hosted prime-time forum, the final such showcase before the Feb. 25 election.
But despite the Dean endorsement, and a run of glowing media coverage, Buttigieg acknowledged that he is in the middle of the pack, far behind DNC front-runners Tom Perez and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). On the call, Buttigieg said that his best hope rests in the front-runners arriving in Atlanta without the 224 necessary votes, and the 447-member DNC deciding the race with multiple ballots.
“If something doesn’t change in the next couple of days, we think that multiple-round scenario looks likely,” he said.
According to public whip counts, no DNC chair candidate has the race locked. Last week, after the Perez campaign claimed to have 180 votes, Ellison contested the numbers, and his allies began pushing more DNC members to endorse. In the past 24 hours, four of them did so: longtime New Hampshire state Sen. Martha Fuller-Clark, Missouri DNC member Curtis Wylde, and Alaska DNC members Sheila Selkregg and Edward Wesley.
“Keith Ellison is the only candidate who has been in the trenches with the progressive grass roots, and who groups representing millions of people would trust to partner with the DNC on voter registration activities, rallies and other activities,” said Stephanie Taylor of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, announcing the new endorsements.
As the election’s gotten closer, more Ellison allies have suggested that a victory for any other candidate — and a victory for Perez in particular — would alienate the progressives who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for president in 2016. On Tuesday, the Huffington Post quoted a string of progressives and labor leaders, none of them voting DNC members, who suggested that Perez’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership while serving in the Obama administration would alienate voters.
“If Ellison gets in and they don’t take labor and the working class for granted, we’re liable to go back to the party,” said Chuck Jones, the president of Indiana’s United Steelworkers Local 1999. “If they put somebody in like Perez [who doesn’t] see it that way, like the TPP — him being for it is a major issue — you’ll start seeing people vote Republican or not voting at all.”
But Perez, who was beloved by progressives while at the Labor Department, has racked up endorsements from unions, including some from AFL-CIO affiliates that have broken from the national union’s support of Ellison. Since leaving the administration, Perez has barely talked about TPP — which effectively died last year — but he’s consistently criticized other trade deals, like NAFTA.
According to Dean, Ellison’s backers were getting him nowhere in raising the specter of a split if Perez won. “I think that talk is divisive, and it’s certainly not helping Keith,” he said. “I know several people supporting Keith, and they’re not doing it because Bernie Sanders told them to.”
Although the campaigns differ on their private whip counts, Perez and Ellison are considered the clear front-runners heading into Atlanta. South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison and Indiana Democratic Party Executive Director Sally Boynton Brown are believed to have as many, or more, endorsements than Buttigieg, none of them reaching far beyond the teens.
There’s little support for commentator and activist Jehmu Greene, election lawyer Peter Peckarsky or one-time state legislative candidate Sam Ronan, but all will appear on the DNC ballot.