DNC Remains a Liability Entering 2020 Cycle

Tom Perez pledged to be 'turnaround artist,' but little progress made

DNC Chair Tom Perez / Getty
DNC chair Tom Perez / Getty
January 7, 2019

Tom Perez took the reins of the Democratic National Committee two years ago pledging to be a "turnaround artist," but the national party enters its fight to unseat President Donald Trump with its major issues unresolved.

The most glaring shortcomings Perez was tasked with turning around were the party's significant fundraising gap with Republicans, the lack of unity that became immediately apparent in the wake of their sweeping 2016 defeats, and a data operation that was blamed by Hillary Clinton for her defeat.

Entering the 2020 cycle, the issues have not been resolved.

On the financial side, the DNC leadership team called attention to its decision to drastically grow its fundraising staff, complaining that they inherited an operation "in shambles."

The results didn't show. The RNC outspent the DNC by $144 million during the 2018 cycle—$315.2 million to $170.7 million—and, despite unloading nearly twice as much money during the midterms, maintains a nearly identical advantage to the one it held to start the cycle.

The RNC's most recent election filing shows $27 million in its war chest, about $2 million more than it had at the beginning of 2017, and no unpaid debts. The DNC, meanwhile, reported $10.4 million in its account, about $130,000 less than it had when Perez took over. The DNC still carries $3 million in unpaid debts.

Just as clear is the remaining problem of party unity. Perez immediately took steps to bridge the divide between the party establishment and supporters of Bernie Sanders, picking a Sanders supporter to be his deputy and then going on a "Come Together and Fight Back" tour with Sanders.

It didn't go well. Sanders refused to even label himself a Democrat during the tour, and Perez was greeted by a chorus of boos. Sanders also continued to be a critic of the DNC and its decision to get involved in primaries.

The DNC has banned its staff from offering any criticism or praise for any of the candidates in the Democratic presidential primary, which has already gotten contentious.

Also unresolved is the DNC's data operation, which Clinton described as "nonexistent" after her election defeat.

"I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party," Clinton said. "I mean, it was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong. I had to inject money into it."

Perez acknowledged Clinton's criticism, but things have not improved.

It was revealed last month that Perez was at "war" with state parties that are reluctant to share their voter data with the national party. Perez reportedly threatened to cut off financial support to the state parties if they didn't back down on the data issue, which has further frayed the relationship the DNC has with the states.

The RNC says it has invested over $200 million and spent six years building its voter data file and doesn't see the DNC catching up.

"While RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel continues to make historic investments in the Republican Party’s cutting-edge data and ground game operation ahead of President Trump’s reelection campaign in 2020, DNC chair Tom Perez took a different strategy: disrupt and further divide the Democrat Party as Democrats quarrel over everything from data ownership to state party funding," said spokesman Steve Guest.

The DNC did not respond to an interview request for this piece.