WASHINGTON (AP) — Labor Secretary Tom Perez plans to officially announce his candidacy for the leadership of the Democratic National Committee on Thursday, according to Democrats familiar with his effort.
Encouraged to mount a bid by the White House, the Obama administration official will challenge early front-runner Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison for the chairmanship of the party's national organization. Perez has spent much of the past few days gauging interest in his effort among top Democrats, including governors up for re-election in 2018.
The contest between Perez, who backed Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, and Ellison, a supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, threatens to inflame lingering tensions from the primary race.
The entry of Perez into the race to rebuild the battered party may kick off a proxy fight between establishment Democrats and a more liberal wing seeking some significant changes in policy and messaging.
Perez, a Dominican-American who grew up in the Rust Belt, will argue that he can represent the Democratic Party's diversity and be an effective salesman for an economic message aimed at regaining support among white, working-class voters.
While Ellison has received the backing of high-profile party leaders, including incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and Sanders, he has faced opposition from some Jewish groups, who have raised questions about his comments about Israel and his defense of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Others are worried about the time he would be able to commit to the job as a sitting member of Congress. They feared a repeat of the tenure of Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who many feel struggled to balance her duties as party head with the political interests of her day job. Wasserman Schultz resigned this past summer after the release of embarrassing emails that revealed efforts to help Clinton.
Trying to assuage those concerns, Ellison announced last week that he'd resign his congressional seat should he win the DNC post.
While White House aides say President Barack Obama is unlikely to comment publicly on the race, behind the scenes his supporters have been speaking with Democratic donors and potential candidates to see who else might be persuaded to run, according to several Democrats familiar with the discussions. These Democrats were not authorized to publicly discuss those private discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Perez, who is also weighing a run for Maryland governor, has spent much of his career in appointed government posts and has little experience as a political candidate.
South Carolina's party chairman, Jaime Harrison, and the party head in New Hampshire, Ray Buckley, have announced bids, though they haven't gotten much traction.
All the candidates are expected to formally woo nearly 450 voting Democratic National Committee members at four regional forums before the official election at the end of February.