Editor's note: This story has been updated.
HOUSTON — Nearly a dozen candidates for Democratic National Committee chair descended here Saturday with an eye on boosting Texas' role in their party's national mission and an even sharper focus on battling President Donald Trump on all fronts.
Addressing DNC members and other party activists, the field of 10 candidates — seven of them considered serious — trained almost all their fire on Trump, assailing him as a threat to democracy who deserves little, if any, Democratic cooperation.
"Sign me up for the resistance," said Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. "What we have seen in the last seven days — I think we might be under-reacting. He's took a jackhammer to the foundations of American moral authority — and on the seventh day, he did not rest."
For Democrats, the latest affront came a day earlier, when Trump signed an executive order halting, for now, a U.S. refugee program and indefinitely suspending Syrian refugee admission. Buttigieg noted that as the candidates were speaking, "people who have looked to America as a beacon are trapped in a Tom Hanks movie at JFK airport," while former Labor Secretary Tom Perez called the move an attack on a program that already works.
After the forum, both Buttigieg and Perez said they were heading to George Bush Intercontinental Airport to join a protest against the order.
"We've got refugees who are vetted more than the Trump Cabinet was," said Perez, who throughout the forum advocated for a confrontational approach to Trump.
"That is bullshit! Plain and simple. Bullshit!" Perez said of Trump's claims of voter fraud in the presidential election. When it comes to combatting Trump, he added: "We can’t come to a knife fight with a spoon, folks. We’ve got to come with a bazooka."
The candidates were backed up by an audience at Texas Southern University that appeared to have little appetite for Democratic collaboration with Trump.
The forum was the second of four across the country before the DNC picks its next chair about a month from now. The setting — in a state that was a rare bright spot for Democrats nationally on Nov. 8 — gave candidates the opportunity to pledge a sharper focus on the traditionally Republican territory if elected.
"We've got to talk to everybody all over this country, and that means sending resources from D.C. to Texas," said U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, singling out Harris County Democrats for their gains last year. "Texas came closer to victory than Ohio did, which goes to show you ... if it's a red state and you're not investing in it, you are making a very big mistake."
Perez also pushed a bigger emphasis on Texas, saying it should be more than just an ATM for national Democrats. When someone comes to Texas and holds a fundraiser, he said, the person "should be sharing in the proceeds with the state party."
"Texas donors — you should be able to direct your funds to Texas," said Jehmu Greene, a political commentator who is the only Texan in the race.
The candidates were united in calling for more attention to state parties, which many believe suffered under President Barack Obama. "OFA killed state parties," South Carolina Chairman Jaime Harrison said, referring to Obama for America, the outside group that helped push the former president's agenda.
There was little open tension among the candidates, except for when it was noted that only one major contender, Buttigieg, participated in marches held across the country last weekend to promote women's rights and other issues. That drew big applause — and later some pushback from Greene.
"I think this is exactly what is wrong with this process, what is wrong with how we operate as a party," she said. "We fall into these traps. We divide when we don't need to."
The DNC will elect the chair at its next meeting, which is set for Feb. 23-26 in Atlanta.
- There's no shading it. Harris County, Texas' largest, went decidedly blue in November.