ATLANTA — Party leaders sought to inspire hundreds of delegates at the annual winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee on Friday, trying out different messages for the party going forward, after its staggering losses in 2016.
Saturday morning, the DNC will vote on its next chair, and there’s currently a close race between former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.
Donna Brazile, who took over as interim DNC chair after Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s ouster last July, launched into an emotional defense of the party and urged delegates to be unified.
“I am grateful that both Hillary and Bernie stood by us as this party was hacked by a foreign, hostile, military intelligence unit,” Brazile nearly shouted, as the members clapped.
She said DNC staff came to work every day, even after receiving death threats due to the hacking and posting of the organization’s internal emails on WikiLeaks, which showed some staffers appearing to push for Hillary Clinton’s victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary. Later, a hack of Clinton’s campaign chair’s email showed that Brazile tipped off the campaign about an upcoming CNN debate question.
“I watched for the last seven months people who came to work after their lives were threatened. After they had to deal with bomb threats,” Brazile said. “After they had to deal with people who wanted to murder them, they came to work for you. They didn’t back down, and I will never back down from them.”
“So don’t start anymore of this ‘disunified party,’” she said to applause. “We’re unified. We’re going to elect new officers tomorrow who are going to lead us forward.”
Brazile sat down to thunderous applause and shouted from her seat, “That’s my style!”
Later in the afternoon, Brazile addressed a smaller group of delegates from Midwestern states, telling them it “upsets” her when people lament the state of the party. “We came up short. I will not sugarcoat it. There are things we did in 2016 that I’m not proud of,” she said. “I’ve said I’m sorry millions of times, and I’ll continue to say it. I’m a Catholic girl.”
But not all the delegates she addressed shared Brazile’s confidence.
“If there’s one thing this election did, it’s prove how bad things could get,” said Martha Laning, chair of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin, a generally blue state which President Trump picked off in November. Many fellow delegates nodded in agreement. Delegates from other Midwestern states, from Ohio and Michigan to Missouri, spoke of a tough November and their concerns about protecting vulnerable Democratic senators running for reelection in 2018.
Perez, the leading candidate for DNC chair, told Yahoo News earlier this month that Democrats have trouble distilling a simple message in a “bumper-sticker world.” But a few Democratic leaders gave it a shot in their addresses to delegates Friday, anyway.
“We are the party of the working people who fight for the working people, no matter their race, gender or beliefs,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.
Xavier Becerra, California’s new attorney general, said Democrats have trouble because they “overthink” campaign messages. “We tend to think the recipe for the secret sauce is a quadratic equation or something,” he said. Instead, it’s simple. “Be a hitter,” Becerra said, referring to the baseball saying that means hit the ball.
Later, he tried out another formulation. “If you want, I can give you the secret sauce in three letters: FDR, JFK, LBJ, and — get used to it — BHO,” he said, referencing past Democratic presidents who created programs such as Social Security and the Affordable Care Act, signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and put a man on the moon.
“We’ve been hitting home runs for America for quite some time, and we just have to be out there ready to step up to the plate to let people see we’ve been hitting home runs for Americans,” he later told reporters, continuing his baseball metaphor.
Hillary Clinton appeared on a giant screen to give the delegates a pep talk via a prerecorded video message Friday. “Let resistance plus persistence equal progress for our party and our country,” she said. “Keep fighting and keep the faith, and I’ll be right there with you every step of the way.”
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