WASHINGTON – Democratic leaders delivered pep talks to demoralized supporters on Monday, promising to reassess their strategy, message and organization in the wake of last week’s devastating defeat.
“You’re allowed to mope for a week and half maybe two,” President Barack Obama told Democratic National Committee members on a conference call. “But after that we’ve got to brush ourselves off and get to work.”
The party has entered a period of soul-searching, as Democrats try to chart their direction in the Donald Trump era. An ascendant liberal wing is pushing for a serious shift toward an economic populist message that could win back white working-class voters who backed Trump.
Party activists, donors and politicians are also advocating for significant changes in leadership, with a group of younger House members trying to postpone leadership elections in an effort to force a discussion about the direction of the party.
“There’s a general feeling that the Democratic Party itself needs some serious reform and has grown very distant from the kind of communities it represents,” said Gara LaMarche, president of the Democracy Alliance, a group of wealthy Democratic donors who gathered in Washington for a three-day strategy session this week.
The DNC, the last bastion of party power in Washington, is emerging as another battleground.
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison announced his candidacy to be chairman of the organization on Monday afternoon, joining a crowded field of candidates that includes former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who was party chairman during the administration of then-President George W. Bush.
After losing the White House and Congress – and likely the ideological tilt of the Supreme Court – the Democrats’ new chief will be one of the party’s most visible faces in politics, making the role a far more influential post than it was during the Obama administration.
Around a dozen Democrats’ names have been publicly floated to succeed interim chairwoman Donna Brazile.
Ellison, a prominent progressive and the first Muslim elected to Congress, has emerged as an early leader, attracting support from Senate leaders and liberal activists.
DNC National Finance Chairman Henry Munoz III said he’s “seriously considering jumping into the race,” arguing that the conversation about the party’s future must include representation for Latinos, a growing demographic group.
Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, and South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison have also said they’re considering bids.
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The contest comes at a time of deep unrest for the party. Anti-Trump protests continued this weekend and post-election polls showed a significant minority of Clinton backers question the legitimacy of Trump’s win.
The future looks even grimmer. In two years, Democrats will be defending about two dozen Senate seats, including at least five in deep-red states. That election could hand Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a filibuster-proof majority, further clearing the way for a conservative policy agenda.
Obama’s call followed a press conference where Obama delivered a subtle critique of Clinton’s campaign, pushing back on the idea that demographic advantages would lead to all-but-assured victories for the party and stressing that Democrats must rebuild on every level. Clinton kept a relatively light campaign schedule until the final weeks of her campaign, focusing heavily on motivating the Democratic base of women and minority voters, rather than swaying independents.
“We’re going to have to show up everywhere,” he said, reflecting on his own 2008 win in Iowa, a state that went for Trump.
Clinton, meanwhile, held her own call with House Democrats on Monday afternoon. She urged the members not to be “discouraged or divided,” according to a Democrat on the call.
“Heartbreaks don’t heal overnight and this one won’t,” she said.
Associated Press Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner contributed to this report.