Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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“We can win everywhere if we organize everywhere.”
When Tom Perez was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee 17 months ago, there were doubts that he would be able to say something so confident. The bitter infighting between supporters of Hillary Clinton, the party’s presidential nominee, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose followers charged the system was rigged against him, was bad enough. Clinton’s stunning loss to President Trump only compounded the demoralization among Democrats.
But that was then.
Successful elections of Democratic governors in Virginia and New Jersey, and a Democratic senator in Alabama for the first time in more than 30 years, have validated Perez’s priorities since he took over the party in February 2017. “We’ve made real progress. Forty-three elections that we’ve helped to flip from red to blue in places all over the country. We’ve become a 57-state and -territory party again. We’re competing everywhere,” Perez told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up.” “Virginia and New Jersey taught us that we could win again, and Alabama taught us that we could win everywhere.”
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“We wanted to make a very strong statement to African American voters that we will never again take them for granted,” Perez said about the DNC’s involvement in Sen. Doug Jones’s win in Alabama. And when I asked Perez about the tension within the party between those who say Democrats must redouble their efforts to win back the white working class and those who say the party must focus on its African American base, he said, “It’s a false choice. We have to do both and then some.” He then pointed to Rep. Conor Lamb’s special-election victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district.
“That was a really important race because those were Obama-Obama-Trump voters — some people would call them Reagan Democrats,” Perez explained. “They came home, and they came home because Conor was talking about core FDR issues. He was talking about health care. He was talking about the right to form a union. He was talking about pension security.”
Perez added that Democrats win “when we lead with our values and develop authentic relationships.”
Listen to the podcast to hear Perez explain the new rules on superdelegates that he says will rebuild trust within the party. “I think people lost faith in the DNC,” he said. “We lost a lot of elections, and we did it in a way that made people feel like the process wasn’t fair.”
Hear him bemoan the demise of the Republican Party: “The party of Lincoln is dead, and it’s been replaced by the party of Trump,” Perez noted. “What is most unconscionable about our current moment in our nation’s journey to form a more perfect union is the appalling silence and capitulation of Republicans on so many issues.”
When it comes to the November midterm elections, Perez is clear-eyed. “We’re fighting for our democracy,” he told me. “This is, I believe, the most important election of our lifetime.”