by Lanny Davis – 2/16/17
The race for chair of the Democratic National Committee is an important one. This is especially so when Democrats are the party in opposition to a Republican president, and especially when that president is Donald Trump, and thus there may need to be an almost daily public response or rebuttal from an effective national Democratic Party leader. The DNC chair will usually be one of the media’s first go-to Democratic leaders to challenge President Trump — especially the all-important Sunday morning interview shows that can dominate headlines for the rest of the week.
So, when I saw that Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison had been endorsed by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and most of the major leaders of organized labor, I decided to take a closer look at his candidacy for chair of the DNC. I knew he had supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primaries over my preferred candidate and friend, Hillary Clinton. I also knew he worked hard for Hillary, along with Sanders, in the general election throughout the country.
So, I took the time to study his positions on the issues and talked to him on the phone for some time over Christmas break 2016. I liked what I saw and heard.
First, I was impressed by his victory in his 2016 congressional campaign. He won by a decisive 69 percent-22 percent margin, while Trump won 45 percent of the presidential vote in that same race. That means Ellison, as a progressive Democrat, showed he had appeal to more than one-out-of-four voters in his district who also voted for Trump.
Second, when I talked to Ellison on the phone, I understood his broad appeal beyond our base. He speaks with humility about economic justice, respect for values and faith, and tolerance for views different than his. He is a good listener and comes across as humble and open-minded. He presents himself well on TV — a vital strength for DNC chair.
Finally, I need to contradict some calls I received from Jewish Americans who believe Ellison is anti-Israel. This is false. Israel has enough real adversaries without mischaracterizing someone who is a true friend as an opponent. Recently, I read a strong endorsement of Ellison for DNC chair from 300 Jewish American leaders from across the country, including more than 100 rabbis.
Ellison has publicly and strongly opposed the obscenely hypocritical “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, supported among fringe elements of the left and on college campuses. We all see the hypocrisy of these BDS supporters. They ignore Israel’s pro-civil rights, human rights, women’s rights and gay rights laws, and rule of law and democracy, and their silence on anti-human rights policies — especially the mistreatment of women — among surrounding Arab nations is deafening.
Ellison has also publicly repudiated past positions, such as his brief association with the notorious anti-Semite Minister Louis Farrakhan during the days leading up to his Million Man March in 1995, 22 years ago. What he has done most recently is far more important: He voted in favor of the record $38 billion, 10-year military aid package for Israel.
Like myself, Ellison supports a two-state solution, as stated in the National Democratic Convention platform — but only if that solution is “negotiated directly by the parties” and “guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders.” I have highlighted the word “Jewish” because that means the congressman understands the importance of Israel as the historic post-Holocaust homeland for Jews all over the world — a place where the Jewish people resided as a nation and a religion more than 3,000 years ago.
I know and have great respect for other contenders for DNC chair. But I believe, as a former DNC member, that Ellison’s proven ability to win congressional elections with large numbers of rural and working class voters is a critical difference between him and the other candidates. We need a national chair with a 50-state strategy — red states, blue states and purple states. Ellison has shown he has the broader appeal that our party needs now more than ever.
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Davis is co-founder of both the Washington law firm Davis Goldberg Galper PLLC and Trident DMG, a strategic media firm specializing in crisis management. He served as special counsel to former President Clinton from 1996 to 1998 and is a regular columnist for The Hill newspaper.
To read the column on The Hill, click here.