Atlanta (CN) —The Democratic National Committee is gathering in Atlanta on Thursday for a three-day session to elect a new party chair and come up with a strategy to move the party forward in the wake of its unprecedented drubbing in the 2016 general election.
With just 620 days until the midterm elections, the pressure in on for the Democratic party leadership to chart a way forward for a party that saw many of its longtime supporters cross party lines and vote for President Donald Trump.
And that's no easy task given that the GOP not only prevailed in federal races, but also nearly ran the table in state races as well.
In the wake of the November election, Republicans control both chambers of the legislature in 32 states, and hold veto-proof majorities in 17. By comparison, Democrats control the legislature in 13 states, with veto-proof majorities in only 5.
The DNC meeting, which begins Thursday and will conclude on Saturday is being held in downtown Atlanta's Westin Peachtree Plaza. On Friday, members of the party's myriad committees, councils and caucuses will convene for a day-long meet-and-greet session with the candidates vying for chair and vice chair.
All of the party's meetings will be open to the public, with the exception of Thursday's meeting of the party's budget and finance committee.
Of course, Saturday's election of a new party chair is the main event. It has been 12 years since the DNC last held an open race for a new chair and the party is well aware of what is at stake.
In what appears to be an attempt to quell any intra-party rumblings following last year's disclosures via WikiLeaks that the Democrats did all they could to favor their eventual presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, over an insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders, the party emphasized in a recent news release this week that Saturday's vote will be "the most open and transparent officer election in party history."
Eight candidates are vying for the position of DNC Chair: Sally Boynton, the executive director of Idaho's Democratic Party; Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana; Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota; Jehmu Greene, Fox News analyst and Democratic strategist; Jaime Harrison, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman; Tom Perez, former labor secretary under President Obama; Peter Peckarsky, a Wisconsin attorney; and Sam Ronan, an activist and Air Force veteran.
Ellison, who announced his candidacy for DNC chair immediately after the November presidential election, and Perez are considered the frontrunners; though Pete Buttigieg emerged after a Wednesday night CNN debate as a possible third contender.
Buttigieg, an openly gay Navy veteran, has been endorsed by former DNC chairman Howard Dean. During Wednesday night's debate, he cautioned that the party's strategy for 2018 and beyond should not focus exclusively on battling President Trump.
Buttigieg called Trump "a computer virus in the American political system" and said, "Yes, we've got to take the fight to him. But we can't let him dominate our imagination."
Ellison, who has endorsements from numerous liberals, unions and progressive figures like Sens. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, hammered hard at Trump during the debate, going so far as to say that the president's actions "legitimately raise the question of impeachment."
Perez, who has reportedly already locked up commitments of support from 180 of the DNC's 447 voting members, echoed the sentiments of the others, saying, "We have seen from the get-go that this person wants to turn the clock back, and the Democratic Party needs to take the fight to Donald Trump. When we lead with values, when we lead with conviction, that's how we succeed."
Obviously mindful of the factional struggles that cost the party dearly in 2016, all of the DNC chair candidates stressed the need for the party to remain united as it develops strategy and works on grassroots mobilization.
Ellison, Perez and Buttigieg have all adopted former Howard Dean's "50-state strategy" as the model they believe will lead the party to success in 2018.
In interviews since the party's election night collapse, Dean has said naval gazing and autopsy reports will do nothing to restore the party in the eyes of the electorate and get it back on a winning track.
"We have to identify every single voter. We have to be in 50 states. We have to build capacity in 50 states," he told host David Greene during an interview with National Public Radio.
The vote for DNC chair is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday morning.
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