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Alma Gonzalez gets key support for Florida Democratic chair, but not from all progressives

The race for the next Florida Democratic Party chair is not quite a done deal.

In a statement Tuesday, Terrie Rizzo said she has 70 percent of the 182 votes needed to win the nomination. However, Hillsborough County’s Alma Gonzalez is touting new endorsements from the state’s Democratic black, Hispanic and Caribbean caucuses. And Brevard County’s Stacey Patel is getting some love from progressives in Gonzalez’ home territory.

The three women are all in the running to lead the party in an election scheduled to take place Saturday in Orlando. The SEIU’s Monica Russo is technically not eligible to compete for the seat, but she is hoping for a change in the bylaws to become the fourth official candidate in the race.

Rizzo, the Palm Beach Democratic DEC Chair, announced new endorsements that she says proves that she is getting closer to having the votes to win the nomination, but Gonzalez says the race is extremely fluid and that she’s seen far too many FDP elections to know that commitments made before the election can change by the time the votes begin to get counted. And she says that the groups whose caucuses backed her today make up well over half the voters who vote in primary elections in Florida, making her “super excited.”

“I am deeply honored to have the support of these caucuses and the Democrats that they represent,” said Gonzalez. “They represent the New American Majority and their voices, issues and leadership will have prominent seats at the table if I am elected chair.”

However, several members of the Tampa Bay Progressive Coalition told Florida Politics that they’re backing Patel, the Bernie Sanders-supporting Brevard chair who is the insurgent candidate in the campaign.

Susan Smith, Jessica Vaughn, Scott Shoup, Beth Shoup, Michael Deloach, Jennifer Hart, Emily Bur, Marcus Klebe, Russell Giambrone, Jackie Simpson, Becca Fiore, Russell Hires, Beau Robichaux and Nina Tatlock all say that they are supporting Patel.

“The great thing about being a Democrat is that we all get to be who we want to be,” Gonzalez responded. “There are going to be individuals who support somebody else’s candidate, and that’s what the beauty of democracy is.”

Gonzalez serves as a Committeewoman for the Hillsborough DEC, but one member of the local Progressive Coalition expressed frustration with her role there, saying she didn’t represent the entire DEC’s stance on some issues, such as the “one party, one vote issue.”

Florida is the only state in the nation whose votes are weighted in state party elections for the chair, meaning not a one man/woman one vote. Advocates say that is in direct violation of Democratic National Committee rules.

When asked about this, Gonzalez admits that it was an issue between her and many Hillsborough DEC members.

“I said to folks I think that we need to have a full debate, and I am not prepared to take a definitive stance in favor of something that I don’t understand,” she says. “I will not push forward on something until I get it. I’m really fortunate because as I’ve said that, openly and transparently and as clearly as I could, lots of folks said, this is what we need, and this is what’s important to us, and I’m so grateful to them for sharing that with me openly.”

It’s not the first time that Hillsborough Dems haven’t back one of their own for party chair. A dispute about the local bylaws of the Hillsborough DEC thwarted Alan Clendenin from winning the race for state committeeman a year ago, leading him to temporarily move to a far distant northeastern small county to make himself eligible for the party chair election.

Clendenin finished second to Miami-Dade’s Stephen Bittel, who resigned last month after it was reported that he had made demeaning comments to women. His resignation triggered the election.

For your radar: Primary election today in House District 72

Democrats in House District 72 head to the polls Tuesday to choose their nominee to replace Republican Alex Miller, who stepped down from her seat in September.

Attorney Margaret Good and businesswoman and community activist Ruta Jouniari are the two candidates vying to advance into the general election that takes place next February.

Good is the establishment choice. She’s backed by Democrats like Christine Jennings, the former Sarasota County Democratic Executive Committee chair, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz and Florida House Victory.

Jouniari is the choice of Bernie Sanders supporters and other Democratic activist groups, such as the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, National Nurses United, and Stand up 4 Democracy PAC.

Good raised more than four times the campaign cash than Jouniari, raising more than $120,000, compared to Jouniari’s $23,429.

Good rejected ABC7 Sarasota news anchor Alan Cohn‘s request to engage directly with Jouniari on his nightly local news program, opting for a separate interview instead.

Good told Zac Anderson from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that she had already participated in numerous debates with Jouniari and that she wanted to devote the rest of the campaign to holding discussions with voters.

As of Monday, 5,856 Democrats already had cast ballots in the race, including 4,958 who voted by mail and 898 who voted early at a supervisor of elections office.

The winner will face Republican James Buchanan and Libertarian Alison Foxall on Feb. 13.

Darren Soto, Bernie Sanders pushing Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands rebuild bill

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto plans to help introduce a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would seek to provide comprehensive rebuilding money and resources for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands beyond what is needed to address just the devastation from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

Soto, an Orlando Democrat, announced he would be joining Democratic U.S. Reps. Stacy Plaskett from the Virgin Islands, and Nydia Velázquez from New York in sponsoring the House version of a U.S. Senate bill announced late Tuesday by independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and cosponsored by several other Democrats.

The Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act, unveiled in Washington D.C. Tuesday by Sanders, Soto and the others, goes beyond just providing immediate humanitarian relief from the storms, which left the island U.S. territories in tatters, still largely without electricity and potable water more than two months later. The bill addresses longterm rebuilding of infrastructure including the schools and power systems, and equity in how the islanders are eligible for federal benefits, including Medicaid and Medicare.

It also calls for more equitable resolution of the Puerto Rico government’s $75 billion debt, now being addressed in bankruptcy proceedings, and seeks seeks to provide the additional aid without forcing the territories to take on more debt.

First, though, it calls for the federal government to immediately address the humanitarian crises by “mobilizing all necessary resources and assets to restore power, provide clean drinking water and food, safe shelter and access to health care,” according to a press release issued by Soto’s office.

“The people of Puerto Rico have been living in a nightmare for far too long,” Soto said. “We talk about power to the people. The people of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands need power! I am proud to support this legislation that will help the islands get the lights back on and their economies going again. As we look to rebuild the islands, we have an opportunity to become an energy model for the 21st century if we invest right.”

“We will stand with the American citizens of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” Sanders said in introducing his bill Tuesday. “We will rebuild those islands better than before the disasters devastated them.”

In addition to stepped-up immediate relief, the bill calls for:

– Puerto Rico’s debt to be addressed in a way to ensure the territory can recover “with dignity” and that the recovery effort should not add additional debt.

– Replacing the “antiquated, centralized and inefficient”power systems with new grids incorporating renewable energies, including solar.

– Parity with states in benefits from Medicaid and Medicare, and equity in the amount of money available.

– Rebuilding and improving the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital and clinics.

– Improvements to public schools, colleges and childcare facilities, which the sponsors contend were “inadequate before the storms hit,” noting that hundreds of public schools were closed in Puerto Rico because of Austerity measures before the storms, and the Virgin Island schools struggled.

– Investments in infrastructure to spur economic development.

– And environmental cleanup, not just from the storms, but from prior pollution and military bombing exercises on the island of Vieques.

Florida Chamber hosts Tampa conference on poverty in Florida

When Democrat John Edwards ran for president in 2004, he gained traction in the primaries by talking about “two Americas” — one wealthy and powerful, the other poor and weak.

The Occupy Wall Street movement followed in 2011, which introduced into the lexicon the derisive term “the one percent,” a reference to the upper elite who increasingly grow wealthy while a majority of Americans see wages stagnate.

Perhaps the last person you’d hear discussing such terms would be a representative from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, but that’s precisely the organization that is sponsoring a daylong event on poverty Tuesday in Tampa.

“I’m fully aware that this is not a popular conversation to have,” said Florida Chamber CEO Mark Wilson in kicking off the “Less Poverty, More Prosperity” conference at the Sheraton Riverwalk Hotel, sponsored by the Chamber’s Foundation.

To his knowledge, the Chamber is the only entity of its kind in the country who has taken up the mission of studying poverty as they work toward reducing impediments to job growth in the Sunshine State.

The effort began in earnest in January, when the Chamber Foundation launched its 2030 project; it’s expected to be completed sometime next year. The initiative aims to provide a step-by-step strategy to make Florida more globally competitive, create economic opportunity for all, and will lead to vibrant and sustainable communities.

A pro-business organization that, by nature, is considered economically conservative, Wilson said the Chamber is a nonpartisan organization and advised anyone who came to the event from a “far-right” or “far-left” perspective to leave their ideology at the door.

“This conversation only turns into results only if in fact we can agree what’s the challenge, what’s a good outcome and what can we all do to help our policymakers to get the changes that need to be made,” he said.

The statistics are daunting: while the state’s 15.8 percent poverty level is troubling, it doesn’t differ much from the national average of 13.5 percent.

In March 2016, Wilson testified before a congressional panel on how to seek ways to end generational poverty by lifting up Americans through economic opportunity instead of entitlements. He said he ended up getting hate mail following that appearance.

“It was the kind of people who were saying,’ what, have you become Bernie Sanders now? Why would the Chamber get involved in doing something about poverty?'” he said. “It just told me that people just don’t know what they don’t know.”

Wilson and other speakers who appeared on panels throughout the day discussed how poverty includes more than one’s income level — it also includes food, transportation and housing.

The chamber intuitive strives to study what can be done to raise the wages of people in poor ZIP codes. “Every person matters, and every ZIP code matters,” Wilson said.

He also said that some in the business community might be coming to the issue on an economic level, while others from a moral point of view.

Wilson said that there is a body of evidence arguing both philosophies are accurate.

The Chamber’s focus is to alleviate generational poverty, not “situational,” which will take generations to turn around. And he said that means tackling early learning in childhood, ticking off a statistic that a child at the age of three who is born into a college educated family has heard 30 million more words than someone born into poverty.

“Newsflash. You can’t make that up later,” Wilson said, adding that it’s up to the business community to address and alleviate that devastating disparity.

Halfway through his 28-minute address, Wilson asked what appeared to be a trick question: Whether it was better for the average person with two kids to be making $9 an hour, or $25 an hour.

He later explained how people could lose certain benefits once their income increases; that’s why in Florida, it’s better to make $9 an hour than $25 if you’re in poverty.

That said, the Chamber opposes efforts to mandate raising the minimum wage in the Sunshine State, including a move by Orlando entrepreneur John Morgan to put the issue on the 2020 ballot.

Stacey Patel enters race for Florida Democratic Party chair

UPDATED:

Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Stacey Patel is officially a candidate for the Florida Democratic Party Chair.

“We can build a party people can believe in,” Patel writes in a post on Medium.com in announcing her candidacy Monday morning. “We can be the party that represents economic, social, and environmental justice for all, but our message must be clear, and we must act in integrity with our words. At our state conference last month, we overwhelmingly passed resolutions supporting guaranteed healthcare as a human right, free public education from pre-K through college or trade school, a living wage and fair compensation for all, investments in environmental protection and renewable energy, restoration of voting rights to former felons, public financing of elections to eradicate the corrupting influence of big money in politics, and other policies that serve the people. Let us turn our resolutions into a people’s platform that we can clearly communicate to all Floridians, and that can guide the priorities and decision-making of our party, our candidates, and our elected officials.

A delegate for Bernie Sanders in 2016, Patel told her supporters last week that she would enter the race if she could show sufficient support leading up to the FDP chair election and into 2018.

“WE DID IT!!!!!!,” she wrote on her Facebook page Sunday night, previewing her Monday announcement.

“In less than 5 days, with no budget, no plan, no organization but a whole lot of heart, we’ve come together to raise over $6,000 to support our campaign, and identify 250 monthly donors and 250 monthly volunteers who have pledged to give time & money to support the work of #OurParty upon our election.”

Patel originally said that she hoped to raise at least $2,500 to fund a race for the party chair, which will be decided December 9.

There are now four candidates in the race to succeed Stephen Bittel as FDP chair: Patel, Palm Beach County Democratic official Terrie Rizzo, Hillsborough County State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez and Monica Russo from the State Employees International Union.

Bittel resigned Nov. 17 following a POLITICO Florida report that he had a history of making demeaning remarks toward women.

Two days later, the state party’s president, Sally Boynton Brown, alienated some women in the party by saying she never experienced Bittel’s behavior and said that she was “heartbroken” women did not feel comfortable coming to her with complaints. She resigned last Monday.

Patel referenced the incident in her statement.

“It is not enough, however, to simply speak our values; we must live them,” Patel writes. “Sexual harassment in our own party, for example, diminishes and undermines our efforts to stand up for equal pay, equal rights, and equal access to healthcare for women. In a party that stands for justice for all, we cannot stand silent or be accomplices to the abuses of people with power and money. When we look away, or worse yet, facilitate the misconduct of the powerful, we create the conditions for systemic injustice and oppression. We must create space to speak truth to power.”

Patel listed six endorsements backing her candidacy: Santa Rosa State Committeewoman Sarah Coutu and State Committeeman Norman Coutu; Leon State Committeewoman Kathryn Smith; Osceola State Committeewoman Sama Nuzuma; Brevard State Committeewoman Angie Matos; and State Committeeman Sanjay Patel (who is married to Stacey).

Patel was elected as Brevard County Chair last December. Under her leadership, the local party won the state’s “Golden Gavel” award for knocking on more doors in local elections than any other local delegation in the state.

She’s a graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz School of Public Policy, and boasts more than 20 years of diverse professional experience in organizational transformation, social media fundraising, project management, small business ownership, non-profit leadership and performing arts administration.

‘Long shot’ candidate Stacey Patel may enter the FDP chair sweepstakes

Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Stacey Patel may soon join the increasingly crowded field of candidates to select the next chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

On her Facebook page on Tuesday, Patel issued a statement declaring that she will enter the race next Monday if she can raise $2,500 to fund her campaign; identify at least 250 monthly donors in 2018; and find at least 250 people to pledge 10+ hours of canvassing or phonebanking per month for 2018.

“Our candidacy would be a long shot – but as a chair in a red county that’s increased membership by over 300% this year, knocked the most doors of any DEC in Florida, improved fundraising by focusing on small donors, and won three elections with a whole lot of heart and about $6000 – I’ve learned to believe in the power of US,” Patel declared on Tuesday night.

The Florida Democratic Party is seeking new leadership after now former Chair Stephen Bittel announced last Friday he would be resigning, following a POLITICO Florida report that he had a history of making demeaning remarks toward women.

Palm Beach County Democratic official Terrie Rizzo,  Hillsborough County State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez  and Monica Russo from the State Employees International Union all announced their candidacies earlier this week.

Russo officially isn’t eligible to run at this time, as party rules require candidates for state party chair to be either a county chair or state committeewoman. However, neither was Bittel when his supporters began talking up his candidacy a year ago. Ultimately the state committeeman in Miami-Dade County resigned his seat, paving the way for Bittel to become a committeeman and become eligible for the FDP position.

Patel, an elected delegate to Bernie Sanders at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, was elected party chair for Brevard County last December.

“I believe when we demonstrate integrity, stand up for justice, give real power to the people, and provide training and tools – the people will be inspired to donate, to knock doors, to make calls, and we will win,” Patel told Florida Politics Thursday. “That’s what were doing in Brevard County. And it works.”

The election for party chair is scheduled for Dec.9.

 

 

 

 

Martin O’Malley hits the phones for Rick Kriseman in St. Pete

Rick Kriseman‘s campaign received another high-profile boost as Martin O’Malley made a trip to campaign headquarters early Monday evening.

A visit by the former Maryland Governor and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate was yet another indication of how serious the Democratic National Committee and Florida Democratic Party are in seeing Kriseman get re-elected as St. Petersburg mayor next week.

O’Malley has been making campaign appearances across the country for Democrats, and he says that a year after the county chose Donald Trump to lead the nation, Democrats have never looked better to Americans.

“People are in a much more thoughtful and reflective mood than a year ago, and so I think that people have come to appreciate that we actually have to make our government work, and I think that’s going to work toward the benefit of Mayor Kriseman in this race,” O’Malley said to reporters.

O’Malley’s appearance comes three days after another Democratic Party star, former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro, made his own trek to campaign for Kriseman. And they both came after Barack Obama and Joe Biden offered rare endorsements to Kriseman in this local race.

“They’re supporting me for what I’ve been able to do in St. Petersburg and what I’ve been talking about for the future for St. Petersburg,” Kriseman said about the endorsements from the former president and vice president, specifically referring to helping launched Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative in the city and his strong vocal support for the Affordable Care Act.

“I think that’s why you’re seeing those folks and the governor being here and speaking on my behalf because we share common beliefs and values in a direction that we want to see not only the city, the but the state and country go,” said the mayor.

O’Malley was the third wheel to the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders battle for the Democratic presidential nomination last year before dropping out of the race after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucus. He had been considered a leading progressive star after serving eight years as Maryland governor and the eight previous years (1999-2007) as mayor of Baltimore.

“When I served on city council I traveled to Baltimore to see some of the innovative things that this man was doing for his community and try to learn from them to bring those back here to St. Pete,” Kriseman told the room full of supporters taking a break from phone banking to listen to the mayor and O’Malley.

As mayor, O’Malley introduced data-driven government reporting and management programs such as CitiStat and StateStat. Kriseman said that he’s tried to take the things that he learned from O’Malley and implement some of them in St. Petersburg.

Mayoral opponent Rick Baker and the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times criticized Kriseman for nationalizing the local, officially nonpartisan race, but O’Malley would have none of it.

“Mayor Kriseman believes climate change is real and he’s certainly not a supporter of Donald Trump,” he said. “Those are pretty good distinguishing features between him and his opponent here.”

Meanwhile, as the mayor was hobnobbing with a former presidential candidate, Baker quietly informed the press via a photo emailed to reporters he has been endorsed in next week’s election by all five living former mayors of St. Petersburg: Don Jones, Bob Ulrich, Dave Fischer and Bill Foster.

“I am excited and pleased that Rick Baker is offering his experience and service to again lead our city. St. Petersburg has been an important part of my life for over 60 years and Rick Baker’s years as mayor were exceptional,” said Jones, who served as mayor from 1967-1969.

“The mayors who have helped build the great city we enjoy today care deeply about our future.  Having their support means the world to me” said Baker.

Five living former mayors of St. Petersburg: Don Jones, Bob Ulrich, Dave Fischer and Bill Foster … and mayoral candidate Rick Baker.
Mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman and former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley (via: Kim DeFalco).

 

(O’Malley photo: Kim DeFalco).

Our Revolution’s Nina Turner returns to Tampa Bay-area next month

Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, leader of Our Revolution — the political group founded by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders — will be returning to the Tampa Bay-area next month for appearances in St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Turner will be in town Saturday, Nov. 4, to speak at the Unitarian Universalist Church (100 Mirror Lake Dr. N) in St. Petersburg at noon. She follows that up with an engagement at Bounce’s Boy in Tampa at 2 p.m. (5008 E. 10th Ave.).

Turner served as a top surrogate for Sanders’ 2016 presidential run; in June it was announced she would become president of Our Revolution, launched by Sanders to elect progressive candidates. She succeeded Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign manager and a longtime strategist, who is currently serving on the party’s unity commission to reform its primaries.

Our Revolution is backing 62 different candidates running for local and state office on Nov. 7. None are in Florida.

This will be Turner’s second time appearing in the Tampa Bay-area this year. In February, she spoke at the United Methodist Church Allendale in St. Pete.

For more information on Turner’s local appearances, check out this Facebook page.

 

Tim Canova vows progressives will push back on status quo at Orlando Democratic event

While the media focuses on Steve Bannon‘s intent to blow up the Republican Party, there also is a definite discord within the Democratic Party.

Last week in Las Vegas, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez removed several party officials from central party committees who backed Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison’s chairmanship bid.

In February, Perez defeated Ellison as chair of the DNC in a race that some depicted as a continuation of the 2016 battle between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Perez backed Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president last year; Ellison supported Sanders.

Bounced from the DNC executive committee were Ray Buckley, James Zogby and Barbra Casbar Siperstein; Buckley was also taken off the rules committee, on which he served as well. Alice Germond lost her at-large appointment.

Among those Perez named as replacements include Harold Ickes, a lobbyist for a nuclear energy company; Manny Ortiz, a lobbyist for Citigroup; Joanne Dowdell, a lobbyist for News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News; and Jaime Harrison, a former lobbyist for coal companies, big banks, and tobacco companies. (Tampa’s Alan Clendenin, a supporter of Clinton last year, also was named by Perez to the executive committee.)

Tim Canova, the Nova Southeastern University law professor who lost a congressional challenge last year to former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and intends to run against her again in 2018, emailed a statement to supporters Monday. Canova said that with news of the DNC purge, he has registered to be a delegate to the Florida Democratic Party State Conference, taking place this weekend in Orlando.

“It’s more important than ever for progressives to push back against the establishment status quo,” Canova writes.

In a brief telephone conversation Monday, Canova said it “added insult to injury” that Perez also appointed former interim DNC chair and CNN commentator Donna Brazile as a DNC delegate and to the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

“It’s really disappointing. There are folks who are speculating that this is intended to drive progressives out of the party, and it will be a smaller, weaker party if there’s more of a ‘DemExit.'” 

Susan Smith, the head of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, hadn’t seen Canova’s email, but she hopes the media and others don’t depict the schism in the party as a battle between Bernie and Hillary, but as the grassroots versus Wall Street.

Smith specifically cited a New York Times op-ed published by Doug Schoen last week, entitled, “Why the Democrats Need Wall Street,” as being “a little scary.”

Schoen, a former pollster and adviser to President Bill Clinton, wrote: “If the party is going to have any chance of returning to its position of influence and appeal, Democrats need to work with Wall Street to push policies that create jobs, heal divisions and stimulate the American economy.”

Florida Democrats are scheduled to meet this weekend for their annual state conference at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. Canova hopes to start a conversation about what’s going on within the party.

“I’m not fueling the ‘DemExit,’ they are,” Canova says of the Perez/Wasserman Schultz wing of the party. “I’m fighting for the party to return to its New Deal roots.”

How to counter Donald Trump? Democrats still searching

Nine months into the Donald Trump era, Democrats are still searching for a standard-bearer and a crisp message to corral widespread opposition to an unpopular president and a Republican-led Congress.

The minority party has put that struggle on vivid display this week in Nevada, site of Democrats’ first national party gathering since a contentious chairman’s election in February. The party’s congressional leaders and potential presidential candidates mostly stayed away, with the exception of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose name has surfaced among possible 2020 hopefuls.

The activists and party leaders who did attend expressed optimism over their rebuilding efforts, but also lingering resentments from the 2016 presidential primary, confirming that the battle between liberals and establishment Democrats continues long after Hillary Clinton dispatched Bernie Sanders but lost to Trump.

The months since the election have brought plenty of frank public assessments about how far the Democratic National Committee has to go to catch up to Republicans on fundraising and technology — twin pillars of how a national party helps its candidates win elections across the country.

The lingering debate was enough for party Chairman Tom Perez, still putting his stamp on the party, to warn that the discord distracts from laying the groundwork for the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential contest.

“This is a Rome-is-burning moment,” he said Friday, his summation of Trump’s presidency so far. “We may be playing different instruments, but we are all in the same orchestra. We need more people in that orchestra.”

Democrats need to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats next November to reclaim the House. Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 Senate advantage, but Democrats must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won. In statehouses, Democrats have just 15 governors, and Republicans control about two-thirds of legislatures.

Democrats hope to hold the Virginia governorship and pick up New Jersey’s next month. The party is tantalized by an Alabama Senate race pitting the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, against former jurist Roy Moore, a controversial figure who wasn’t the GOP establishment’s first choice.

Perez is selling confidence. “We’ve got game,” he roared to an exuberant audience at one reception.

Behind that hope, there are plenty of reasons for caution, mostly rooted in an uncomfortable reality: No Democrat has emerged as a leader and top rival to Trump in 2020, with a line-up of previous candidates like Joe Biden and Sanders and little-known House and Senate lawmakers.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Perez’s deputy who hails from the party’s left flank, pushed back against any notion that the Democrats don’t have a clear leader.

“We are not a leaderless party. We are a leader-full party. We have Tom Perez. We have Keith Ellison. We have Leader Pelosi. We have Leader Schumer,” he said.

Still, that reliance on Capitol Hill means the party is touting a leadership core much older than the electorate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 77. Sanders is 76. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is 66. Other national figures, Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are in the same generation.

“You will see a new generation out there — good messengers with the right message,” said Henry Munoz, the party’s finance chairman, though he declined to speculate about individual names.

A prominent DNC member who backed Clinton in 2016 tried to convince Democrats on Friday to call on Sanders to join the party. “The first word in DNC is ’Democratic,’” quipped Bob Mulholland. But the party’s Resolution Committee, led by Sanders backer James Zobgy, jettisoned the idea. Zogby said taking a shot at Sanders would “feed a Twitter debate that will not be helpful in bringing together” voters on the left.

Trump’s approval ratings are mired in the 30s, levels that history says should spell scores of lost Republican House seats next year. Yet Trump has never had consistent majority public support. Democrats also face an uphill path because Republican state lawmakers drew a majority of congressional districts to the GOP’s advantage.

Trump’s election has sparked an outpouring of volunteer energy and cash on the political left, but the money hasn’t flowed to the national party. Munoz, who helped former President Barack Obama haul in record-setting sums, says the DNC has taken in $51.5 million this year, compared with $93.3 million for Republicans.

Party treasurer Bill Derrough acknowledged that he’s found frustrated Democratic boosters asking about “a damaged brand, what are we doing, what do we stand for.”

The party’s “Better Deal” rollout earlier this year — a package of proposals intended to serve as the economic message to counter Trump’s populist nationalism — hasn’t been an obvious feature at Democrats’ national meeting at all.

Perez is seeking to inject younger blood into the party leadership structure with his 75 at-large appointments to the DNC. But his appointments meant ousting some older DNC members, including Babs Siperstein. The New York at-large member whom Perez did not reappoint warned her fellow Democrats not to underestimate the fellow New Yorker in the White House — Trump.

“He may be weird. He may be narcissistic. But he’s not stupid,” Siperstein said. “He’s smart enough to get elected. He’s smart enough to get away with everything. … So we have to stay united.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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