Keith Ellison has served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Minnesota's fifth district since 2007. And now, he's one of the top names in the running for the next chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Although Ellison hasn't officially declared his candidacy, but he's already considered a favorite to the head the DNC. For a party that is in serious need of reflection and rebooting, I believe Ellison could help turn the Democratic party around with his progressive record and his focus on working-class struggles.
From my perspective, the fact that the party needs a serious revamp is pretty hard to dispute following Donald Trump's unexpected defeat of Hillary Clinton. Democrats are being forced to take a hard look at their party and the reasons why so many voters chose a fear-mongering reality star/real estate mogul over their candidate. It is becoming increasingly clear that white working-class Americans largely abandoned the left in 2016 for Trump's appeal to their struggles, concerns, and interests.
I believe nominating Ellison to the head of the DNC would be one step toward re-centering the needs of working-class Americans on the Democratic party's agenda (at least on the surface). As Ellison put it on ABC News's This Week, the party needs to move away from its focus on big money and commit to the American people. "I love the donors, and we thank them, but it has to be the guys in the barbershop, the lady at the diner, the folks who are worried about whether that plant is going to close, they’ve got to be our focus,” he said. “That’s how we come back."
Ellison, who has garnered endorsements from several lawmakers, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Harry Reid, has no shortage of progressive cred. He's the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House, and has pushed for a number of policies that would benefit low- and middle-income Americans, including reworking trade deals to protect jobs, maintaining "entitlement" programs, increased taxes on the wealthy, and universal health care, Politico reported.
The Democratic party may attempt to "come back" by moving closer to Sanders' vision, shifting further left to maintain the enthusiasm of the massive supporter network the Vermont senator mobilized with his primary bid and appealing to working-class Americans with a real focus on economic justice at the expense of maintaining a friendly relationship with Wall Street and America's wealthy. Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, embodies that emphasis on economic justice along with the party's long-standing claim that it is the party of diversity — a form of populism devoid of the demagoguery employed by the Trump campaign.
Of course, this type of commitment on the party level will require more than putting a new face at the top of the DNC. The party and its lawmakers would need to prove to voters, through their actions, that they have the struggles and the interests of low- and middle-income Americans at the forefront of their agenda. As Sanders said while endorsing Ellison in an Associated Press interview: "You cannot be a party which on one hand says we're in favor of working people, we're in favor of the needs of young people but we don't quite have the courage to take on Wall Street and the billionaire class. People do not believe that. You've got to decide which side you're on."
Still, the next DNC head will likely have substantial influence over the direction of the Democratic Party, possibly giving greater legitimacy to the further left of the spectrum in the party. The results of the presidential election show that the party is not doing enough to earn the support of working Americans. Ellison's rise to a prominent position among the ranks could be one corrective step toward regaining their support — by giving them support in turn.