Four hopefuls for DNC chairman set to square off as proxy battle for party soul heats up

WASHINGTON – Four Democrats who hope to lead their national party through a time of diminished power will face off Friday at a forum in Denver.

The “Future of the Party Forum” comes as the race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee has emerged as a proxy battle for the direction of the party with President-elect Donald Trump preparing to enter the White House and Republicans retaining control of both chambers of Congress.

The hopefuls planning to participate Friday include Ray Buckley, the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party; Howard Dean, a former governor of Vermont; Keith Ellison, a Minnesota congressman; and Jaime Harrison, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

Several others are also eyeing the race, including Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, who earlier this week laid out her vision of where the DNC should head in a Medium post. The proposals from Hogue, who has yet to declare her candidacy, include re-examining the electoral college, in which Trump prevailed despite losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

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The most visible of the contenders has been Ellison, who’s rolled out dozens of endorsements, including those of Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Ellison, a favorite of the party’s progressive wing, also has the backing of some establishment Democrats, including Sen. Charles Schumer, his chamber’s incoming minority leader.

Buckley was mentioned as a contender when it appeared to Democrats that Clinton would be in the White House, and his name has recently re-emerged. Dean is seeking to return to a post he previously held in which he championed a “50-state strategy.”

Harrison is considered something of a long shot, but his candidacy got a boost Wednesday from a letter sent to DNC members from Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., urging a vote for the fellow South Carolinian. Clyburn holds the leadership post of House assistant Democratic leader.

The party’s next chairman is scheduled to be picked in February by DNC members from across the country, who may or may not take their cue from elected officials. The new chairman will succeed interim chairwoman Donna Brazile, a longtime Democratic operative who stepped in after Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., resigned in July and has since come under fire for leaking CNN debate questions to Hillary Clinton.

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Friday’s forum is being hosted by the Association of State Democratic Chairs as part of that organization’s nationwide conference.