Keith Ellison, the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district and deputy chair of the Democratic National Committees, spoke about the future of the Democratic Party on April 19 at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress and the first African-American to have been elected to the U.S. House from Minnesota, has been the representative of The University of Minnesota (UMN)’s congressional district since 2007. In a continuous string of losses in national and state elections, the Democratic party is struggling to connect with voters and expand its voter base. Ellison joined a lively conversation with Professor Larry Jacobs and capitol reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger to discuss issues such as whether Democrats should focus on reconnecting with rural and white voters, or whether they should concentrate on energizing their base in urban areas.
The Democratic Party has been on a losing streak. Since 2008, the party has seen its majorities in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate disappear and turn into Republican majorities. According to The Week, Democrats lost 10 percent of their senate seats from the 111th Congress, 19 percent of their house seats, and 20 percent of their seats in the state legislatures during Obama’s tenure. After Hillary Clinton’s defeat last November, the Democratic Party hit turbulence. Whether it was a failure to attract enough youth voters, the role of third parties, or the resentment towards the system, the Democratic Party has questions to answer regarding last November’s elections.
Keith Ellison, who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders for DNC chair, is one of the most prominent figures in the Democratic Party. Ellison has been an advocate for tuition-free college, abortion, and LGBT rights. In a message of inclusivity and acceptance, Ellison expressed how harmful it is for society to divide over religion, sexual orientation, gender, or other barriers. Ellison, who has received a 100 percent rating from NARAL- Pro-Choice America, indicating his pro-choice record, condemned the threats on Planned Parenthood and women’s rights.
The Democratic Party is experiencing an uncertain situation, trying to figure out their past mistakes and correct them for upcoming elections. The question “What is going wrong?” is constantly being thrown around the party officials. Ellison’s main concern is that the party has been focusing too much on presidential elections every four years rather than also focusing on local races and focusing too much on likely voters rather than all voters. By starting early and knocking on every door, voter turnout can massively increase, according to Ellison. By building community engagement and reaching out to voters outside the common base, the party can out its hole.
A junior student in the Political Science major at The UMN who identified himself as “Carter” was one of the various students that attended the event. When asked why he attended, Carter responded, “A lot of my extended family members come from that background and are fairly conservative, so I liked hearing some specifics from Ellison on how he thinks we should connect to those people.”
Overall, various students from across the political spectrum at the UMN attended the Ellison event for a multitude of reasons. It culminated in a question-answer session with Ellison and attendees.