Stung by Trump's win, Democrats look to future at DNC forum in Baltimore

Democrats can capitalize on President Donald Trump's election if the party is able to harness the energy of protests taking place across the nation and turn it into votes, several candidates seeking to lead the party said at a forum in Baltimore on Saturday.Ten...

Stung by Trump's win, Democrats look to future at DNC forum in Baltimore

Democrats can capitalize on President Donald Trump's election if the party is able to harness the energy of protests taking place across the nation and turn it into votes, several candidates seeking to lead the party said at a forum in Baltimore on Saturday.

Ten candidates vying to chair the Democratic National Committee met at the Baltimore Convention Center to lay out their vision for a party still reeling from an election that cost them the White House and exposed deep divisions over its direction.

Democrats will choose new leaders this month who will be charged with crafting a national economic message and, perhaps more importantly, rewiring how the party organizes for elections.

The Baltimore forum, the final of four such meetings, drew the two candidates considered the front-runners for that job — former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez of Maryland and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota — the chairs of two state Democratic parties, and six others.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have been forced to adjust to a more vocal base in the wake of Trump's election. Spontaneous protests in response to the president's temporary travel ban from predominantly Muslim nations and a flurry of calls to congressional offices about his nominees have changed the dynamic within the party.

Democrats will hold a pair of soul-searching meetings in Baltimore this week as the party looks for an approach to President Donald Trump that can unite supporters still bruised by his upset victory last fall.

House Democrats open their annual retreat Wednesday at the Inner Harbor, a closed-door...

Democrats will hold a pair of soul-searching meetings in Baltimore this week as the party looks for an approach to President Donald Trump that can unite supporters still bruised by his upset victory last fall.

House Democrats open their annual retreat Wednesday at the Inner Harbor, a closed-door...

Some are calling for aggressive opposition — such as filibustering Trump's nominee to serve on the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, and slowing his legislative agenda. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi indicated at the beginning of a caucus retreat in Baltimore earlier this week that the message is being heard by House leaders.

"As long as the president continues down this path, there is nothing Democrats can work with him on," Pelosi said.

Not everyone is convinced, however, that the all-or-nothing approach is the best path forward for Democrats. The party must defend 10 Senate seats in the 2018 midterm election in states Trump won, including Florida, Indiana and Ohio.

Trump has framed his executive actions within a terrorism context, but they are part of an isolationist worldview America hasn’t seen since before World War II.

Trump has framed his executive actions within a terrorism context, but they are part of an isolationist worldview America hasn’t seen since before World War II.

Declaring that a "a new era of justice begins," President Donald Trump signed three executive orders on Thursday that he said were intended to reduce crime.

Declaring that a "a new era of justice begins," President Donald Trump signed three executive orders on Thursday that he said were intended to reduce crime.

Despite the poor showing in November, Democrats have plenty to work with. Trump came into the White House with historically low polling — and those numbers have not moved significantly since his inauguration. Anti-Trump crowds, meanwhile, have been showing up at Republican town hall meetings in a wave reminiscent of the beginnings of the 2010 Tea Party movement for Republicans.

The energy presents an opportunity for the next Democratic chairman, assuming that person can unite the party. Perez and Ellison do hold widely different views on how to accomplish that — and both are considered liberal Democrats. Some view Perez as more of an insider, given his work at the labor and justice departments under former President Barack Obama.

Perez, a Takoma Park resident and former Maryland state official, recently won the backing of former Vice President Joe Biden. Ellison is supported by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who ran to the left of Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Whoever wins must also confront the damage caused by the leaking of internal party emails last summer that appeared to show party officials pulling for Clinton over Sanders. Those emails led to the ouster of former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The forum also included candidates for vice chair and secretary, a position currently held by former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. She is seeking another term in the party position.

Ellison said there is meaning behind the decision to hold the forum in Baltimore, a heavily Democratic city whose struggles were brought to the fore by rioting in 2015. Similar meetings were held in Detroit, Houston and Phoenix.

"This is a message to the nation and to the people in Baltimore that the Democratic Party cares about them," Ellison said in an interview. "We're on their side and we're invested and we're going to engage them."

ywenger@baltsun.com

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john.fritze@baltsun.com

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