Iowa blowback scorches Tom Perez

For much of the week, the Iowa Democratic Party and its chair Troy Price have taken the brunt of the blame for the failed reporting app and the fiasco it created for Monday’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

The spectacle of the beleaguered and abandoned state party leader has frustrated a number of his fellow state party chairs, leading some of them to conclude Perez has sought to distance himself from the crisis and scapegoat Price in the process.

“Loads of state party chairs are pissed that he would treat one of their peers like this,” said a senior state party official familiar with the ongoing discussions.

On a Wednesday call of state chairs and DNC officials, Tina Podlodowski, chair of the Washington state Democrats, demanded answers about why Perez was absent from the spotlight as Iowa imploded, and why the national chairman wasn’t standing side-by-side with Price as he addressed the public in front of cameras.

“Where is Tom?” Podlodowski said in an interview Thursday, recalling her sentiments on the call. “It was very frustrating to not hear from the DNC for 48 hours, except for them throwing Troy under the bus.”

A DNC official, who declined to be identified, pushed back on the characterization that Perez and the national committee had gone AWOL, noting that the DNC sent staff to help the Iowa state party around the clock and provide resources.

Perez, the source said, was updated hourly.

On Thursday, however, the relationship between the Iowa state party and the DNC took another turn as Perez stunned Iowa Democrats by publicly calling for a recanvass of the Iowa caucuses while they were still trying to finish counting votes.

“Enough is enough,” he tweeted. “In light of the problems that have emerged in the implementation of the delegate selection plan and in order to assure public confidence in the results, I am calling on the Iowa Democratic Party to immediately begin a recanvass.”

According to an Iowa Democrat with knowledge, a Perez assistant gave Price a one-minute heads up before sending out the tweet.

That Democrat, who had been involved in preparing for this year’s caucuses, called Perez’s move a transparently self-serving gesture at their expense.

Perez asked for the recanvass at a time when the first count hadn’t even concluded; the DNC knew very well that the way to trigger a recanvass was through a discrete process that initiates when a presidential candidate requests it. Other state party sources complained that the DNC consistently imposed new rules on a party organization that’s largely volunteer-run, and provided little financial or professional assistance in the run-up to the caucuses.

“He’s trying to protect himself,” the person said. “He got what he wanted, which is the end of the Iowa caucuses.”

Appearing for the first time before national viewers three days after the Iowa contest, Perez told MSNBC Thursday evening that he understood why people were upset but repeated his call for a recanvass of precincts that reported irregularities.

And he doubled down on his criticism of the Iowa party’s handling of the caucus, without owning up to any national party responsibility: “This was a major league failure, [Price] owned up to it. And we’ve been there with him ever since.”

Late Thursday, after Perez’s appearance on MSNBC, the chair of the Association of State Democratic Committees, Ken Martin, sent an email to all state party chairs, saying they were still waiting for the DNC to respond to a request that “they provide message guidance” on the “evolving situation with the Iowa caucuses.”

Martin shared talking points for the party chairs that were compiled by a number of state party communication directors. The messaging points stood in sharp contrast to Perez‘s approach over the last two days: Express “gratitude” to Iowans, note that the Hawkeye State needs time to count, don’t blame Iowa, and point out that a recanvass is up to the presidential candidates.

“It is not the time for people to point fingers, place blame, or try to distance themselves from what happened in Iowa,” one talking point read, according to an email obtained by POLITICO. “If there needs to be a recount or recanvass, the only people who can call for one are the 2020 candidates themselves.”

Several Iowa Democrats who spoke to POLITICO on the condition they not be identified said that even if a recanvass took place, the results would almost certainly not come through until after New Hampshire’s primary. While they concede the local party is culpable for its mistakes, they voiced frustrations that the DNC did little to tune in to the issues surrounding the technology before the caucuses.

The DNC claims it warned the Iowa state party about security issues with the app, but the party has denied happened. The DNC also says it helped test the app’s security but coding tests for bugs is something under the Iowa party’s purview.

Perez isn’t just facing blowback from state party officials. At a Wednesday meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, members had a free-wheeling, 45-minute venting session about the DNC and Perez. The CBC is weighing whether to send a letter to Perez listing their grievances with his leadership, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge, and a growing number of black lawmakers are itching for Perez’s ouster after Iowa.

“I’m concerned about who owned Shadow [the company behind the failed app], who the investors are, [and] if they are Democratic operatives then that probably went toward the push to pick that app,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).

Perez’s leadership is “virtually nonexistent,” Thompson continued. “It’s just a matter of time before he’s going to go.”

DNC spokesperson, Xochitl Hinojosa, said “the DNC’s focus is to elect Democrats and beat Trump.”

The committee has made “unprecedented investments in state parties and won each November,” said Hinojosa, citing rules passed to make primaries more accessible and a debate process that is more “inclusive” than in the past. “Our work will continue because it’s more important than ever and there is too much at stake to be distracted by anything else.”

Iowa is the latest flash point in the CBC’s feud with Perez. Many members in the Wednesday meeting also voiced irritation over the DNC’s decision to change the presidential debate qualifications, making it possible for a candidate like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to make the debate stage. Many of the CBC members had urged Perez to change the qualifications sooner to allow Cory Booker and Julian Castro to make the stage but he declined.

A DNC official said the committee made it known in November that the threshold would change once people started to vote. The requirements are expected to likely change again to account for the outcomes of the first two contests, said a DNC official.

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