Twenty Questions for the DNC Chair Candidates

(Photo: AP/David Zalubowski)

From left, Jaime Harrison, Keith Ellison, and Ray Buckley address a forum on the future of the Democratic Party on December 2, 2016.

Tonight, six of the candidates seeking to become the chair of the Democratic National Committee—Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Sally Boynton Brown, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison, and outgoing Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez—meet for a debate, sponsored by The Huffington Post, at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

We asked our readers and Prospect editors and reporters to come up with questions for the candidates—either for all of them or (where noted) one candidate in particular. Here are 20 of those questions.

1. Bernie Sanders raised roughly $240 million in his Democratic presidential primary campaign, with the average contribution, as we all know, coming in at just $27. National party committees can’t count on having nearly as many contributors as a popular presidential candidate, and traditionally raise a lot of their money from many fewer contributors who make donations in the five and even six figures. If you’re elected chair, what percentage of the party’s yearly budget would you like to see come in in donations of $100 or less?

2. What would the DNC and the Democrats more broadly have to do to increase low-dollar donations to the committee? What would be your program to increase low-dollar donations?

3. Traditionally, DNC chairs spend a lot of time and energy raising high-dollar donations from a relatively small pool of contributors. Is that a curse, a blessing, both, or neither? And why?

4. A great many of the appeals for support you’ll make as chair will be based on the indispensability of backing Democrats if we’re to block Donald Trump from ruining the country. Beyond opposing Trump, what three issues do you think are key to mobilizing rank-and-file activists and bringing in low-dollar donations?

5. What issues do you think are key to bringing in high-dollar donations?

6. In November’s election, the Democrats lost the presidential and senatorial contests in North Carolina but won the gubernatorial contest, ousting the incumbent. Why was that, and what lessons should Democrats take from that?

7. What policies should the Democrats pursue to win back such former industrial powerhouses as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Iowa?

8. What policies should the Democrats pursue to win Sunbelt states with changing demographics, such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona?

9. The gap between Democratic and Republican voters is in many ways a gap between urban and rural voters, many of whom hold vastly different views on social issues—in particular, on whether racial diversity is to be welcomed or feared. How plausible is it that the Democrats could win a larger share of rural voters? How could they do it?

10. In New York, the Working Families Party trains thousands of progressives every year on the rudiments of running for local office, and gives hundreds of them further in-depth training. The overwhelming majority of those who run actually run as Democrats, yet nowhere does a state Democratic Party offer comparable trainings to as many people. Should the party devote more resources to such expansive programs?    

11. We hear a lot about how the Democrats need a permanent presence in communities where they currently show up only at election time. But the only time the party really had that kind of presence was in the heyday of the big city machines of the late 19th century and early 20th century, when party organizations were an integral part of immigrant and ethnic communities, often offering patronage jobs and other benefits to supporters in return for their votes. That model isn’t coming back, but are there lessons from the old machines that Democrats can learn from today as they try to build up their infrastructure?

12. [For Keith Ellison] How would you persuade Bernie Sanders supporters to get or stay involved in party activities and donate money to the party if you’re not elected chair? What would you say to them?

13. [For Tom Perez] Some prominent Democratic donors have accused Congressman Ellison of anti-Semitism and threatened to withhold support from the DNC should he be elected chair. What would you say to them?

14. [For Keith Ellison] How would you rank Tom Perez as a progressive? What distinguishes his politics from yours?

15. [For Tom Perez] Do you think you can work more effectively with Democratic establishment groups than Keith Ellison? Do you think you can work as effectively as he with Bernie Sanders’s supporters?

16. Democratic presidential contests are decided by both primaries and caucuses. Far fewer voters participate in caucuses than they do in primaries. Are caucuses less democratic than primaries? Are they less representative of Democratic voters’ sentiments? Should the party continue to consider caucuses a valid way of selecting delegates?

17. Some states hold primaries and caucuses that are open to all who wish to participate; other states restrict participation to registered Democrats. Is one way better than the other? How do you assess the pros and cons of each?

18. With each successive election cycle, the two states that kick off the quadrennial presidential selection process—Iowa and New Hampshire—look less and less representative of the Democratic base. In particular, they’re both a great deal whiter than the Democratic electorate nationally. Isn’t it time to begin the process with more representative states? If not, what should the Democrats do to begin the winnowing process in a way more reflective of today’s Democratic voters?

19. In five words or less, what’s the single most important feature you’d like to see in a congressional or senatorial candidate?

20. If you could choose just one former DNC chair as the model for what you’d like to be and do as chair, who would that be?

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