Labor Secretary Tom Perez announces a bid for DNC chair

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The stage is set for the start of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a Democrat with close ties to the Obama administration’s political infrastructure, announced a bid for chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Thursday, posting an open letter to his new website.

Perez cast himself as someone ready and willing to listen to the concerns people have with the beleaguered DNC, an organization at a low point after Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump last month. Perez, a native of Buffalo, New York, acknowledged the loss to Trump had not been easy for Democrats but said “now isn’t the time to despair – it’s time to organize and fight.”

“Most of all, we need to listen. We need to listen to Democrats at every level, empowering them to fight for progressive values and a vision of opportunity and optimism,” he wrote. “And we need to listen to voters, up and down the ballot, who are asking us to stand behind them.”

The labor secretary enters the race after a number of top Democrats and Democratic organizations have backed Keith Ellison, the Minnesota congressman who has announced he would leave his seat if he wins the DNC chair race. Ellison has been endorsed by key labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO, and top Democrats such as incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, an icon of the left.

Perez will also talk to Democratic leaders across the country on a call Thursday afternoon, laying out his vision for the DNC and his bid to run the organization.

Perez, an outspoken surrogate for Clinton who has worked for the Obama administration for more than seven years and was on Clinton’s vice presidential short list, is the first serious challenger to square off with Ellison.

People close to Perez say he wants to help rebuild the shell-shocked party after last month’s surprise loss to Donald Trump and thinks the best way for him to be helpful is at the helm of the DNC.

One key reason Perez has decided to run: The labor secretary appears to have the backing of the Obama White House.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have not endorsed anyone in the DNC race, and Josh Earnest said Wednesday that he does not expect them to do so.

“It’s certainly true that President Obama thinks very highly of the Secretary Perez,” Earnest said. “He is somebody who has served at the Department of Labor for three or four years now, and he has been instrumental in advancing some executive actions of President Obama has prioritized.”

He then added, “But as I’ve said before, I don’t anticipate a situation in which the President forcefully endorses a candidate in the DNC chair’s race.”

Perez has also been quietly pushed to run for the job for weeks by a number of Democrats, some of whom are concerned about Ellison’s criticism of Israel and more liberal leanings.

Bernie Sanders, a leader among liberals after his primary challenge to Clinton, has backed Ellison and the DNC race sets up another fight between the Sanders and Obama/Clinton wings of the party, with Ellison representing the former and Perez the latter.

Perez was one of the first Obama administration cabinet secretaries to back Clinton. He also supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a stance many progressives hold against the labor leader.

Sanders and Ellison will host a live-streamed conversation Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET and the independent senator, who used the DNC as a foil throughout his 2016 campaign, views the congressman as an important way to assert his power within the Democratic Party and reshape the top Democratic organization.

Two state party chairs — Jamie Harrison of South Carolina and Ray Buckley of New Hampshire — are also both running for the chairmanship.

The more than 400 voting DNC members will select the new chair in February at the DNC’s winter meeting.