POLITICS
02/16/2017 02:20 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2017

Keith Ellison Pushes Back Against Perez Whip Count In DNC Race

"We are very confident in our whip count and are in an excellent position to win next week."

WASHINGTON ― Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a leading candidate to chair the Democratic National Committee, wrote in a letter to voting DNC members on Thursday that while he will not release a public estimate of his support, he is in “an excellent position to win next week.” 

The letter was a response to the release on Tuesday of a whip count by former Labor Secretary Tom Perez’s DNC chair campaign, which said Perez had locked up 180 of the 224 votes needed to clinch the chairmanship in the first round of voting. (If a candidate does not receive a majority of the 447 votes in the first round, there are additional ballots until someone obtains a majority.)

In his message to the state party chairs and other officials that have a vote in the DNC race, Ellison offered thinly veiled criticism of Perez’s tactics without actually naming him.

“One of the other great candidates for this race released an unverifiable public whip count earlier this week,” Ellison wrote. “You received a voicemail, email and a text message trying to make the race sound like it is over. And the goal is clear: to exert pressure on you.”

“We chose not to engage in the same tactics because we believe you deserve the respect to make your own decision without a finger on the scale,” he continued. “However, I feel compelled to respond: we are very confident in our whip count and are in an excellent position to win next week.”

The Perez campaign rejected the suggestion that the former labor secretary had tried to assert that he has already won.

“We are proud of the broad support we’ve received, but it’s clear that this race is far from over. Tom will spend the next 10 days traveling across the country to talk to Democrats about rebuilding our party,” Perez campaign spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement.

In addition to Ellison’s letter, he appears to have taken other steps to show confidence in his chances of winning.

Ellison is discussing a deal with New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley to have him lead DNC operations in exchange for his support, sources close to the matter told NBC News on Tuesday. 

The contest between Ellison and Perez, the clear front-runners in the race, is viewed by many progressive activists as a proxy battle between the progressive wing of the party and the more centrist Democratic establishment. Ellison, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2016 presidential primary, enjoys strong support among Sanders supporters. Meanwhile, Perez, who endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primary race and was all but endorsed by former President Barack Obama, has gotten more traction with Clinton backers in the primary race.

Perez, Ellison and Buckley are competing with seven other candidates: South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Idaho Democratic Party executive director Sally Boynton Brown; South Carolina Democratic Party chair Jaime Harrison; media strategist Jehmu Greene; Robert Vinson Brannum, Veterans Committee chair of the NACCP’s Washington D.C. branch; Milwaukee attorney Peter Peckarsky and Ohio activist Sam Ronan. 

DNC voting members will elect the next chair and other senior officers at a meeting in Atlanta on Feb. 25.

This story has been updated to include a response from the Perez campaign.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a candidate to chair the Democratic National Committee, speaks during a DNC forum in Baltimore,
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a candidate to chair the Democratic National Committee, speaks during a DNC forum in Baltimore, on Feb. 11, 2017. 

Below is the full text of Ellison’s letter to the 447 voting DNC members:

DNC Member - 

Over the last several months, we have had important conversations across the country about the future of our party. I am proud to have the support of more than 750,000 grassroots Americans, hundreds of state elected officials, more than 15 labor unions and officials, and dozens of state party chairs, vice chairs, and elected official DNC Members who have chosen to make their support public.

One of the other great candidates for this race released an unverifiable public whip count earlier this week. You received a voicemail, email and a text message trying to make the race sound like it is over. And the goal is clear: to exert pressure on you.

We chose not to engage in the same tactics because we believe you deserve the respect to make your own decision without a finger on the scale. However, I feel compelled to respond: we are very confident in our whip count and are in an excellent position to win next week.

We know that this race will be close. DNC members are diligently listening to all of the incredible candidates in this race. That is why I have campaigned in the same manner that I will lead. We have traveled to over 30 states – from Alaska to Florida – to meet with DNC members in their states and hear the opportunities we have for the future of our party. 

Let me assure you, we expect to earn the majority of support from DNC members on February 25, but we intend to do that the way we have over the last several months – conversations with you the DNC members about our vision to win elections and rebuild the party.

You have an important decision to make. We honor those of you who are undecided and we respect and will not attempt to manipulate your process. We want to have final in person conversations with you next week in Atlanta. I look forward to having those conversation. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at dnc@keithellison.org to set up a time to chat.

Best,
Keith Ellison

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