WASHINGTON – In the heated race to become the next chair of the Democratic National Committee, Bill Daley is endorsing South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg, who hits Chicago on Sunday to rally support for this bid.

The two leading contenders for the top party post are former Labor Sec. Tom Perez and the first Muslim elected to Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison D-Minn.

Buttigieg is emerging as the leading alternative to the better known Perez and Ellison, whose battle is seen as a proxy war between the Obama/Clinton and Sanders/Warren wings of the Democratic party.

Buttigieg, 35, is seen as a rising star in the party, which, during the Obama presidency, has seen losses in the number of Democrats holding Congressional, state and local offices.

Add to that the surprise defeat of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. Buttigieg is an officer in U.S. Navy Reserve, who took a leave of absence from his mayor’s job to serve in Afghanistan in 2014.

And he is also openly gay. And he is an elected official in the home red state of Vice President Mike Pence.

Ellison has the backing of Sen. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill.
Daley, a former Obama chief of staff and a Commerce Secretary under Bill Clinton in endorsing Buttigieg told me he is a “nice fresh start for the party.”

Daley likes Perez, who has picked up the backing of former Vice President Joe Biden. But Perez or Ellison at the helm means “a continuation of the Obama/Clinton versus the Sanders/Warren” feuds.

“Let’s get beyond this and focus on all these places other than Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami that seem to have a problem with Democrats,” Daley said.

Buttigieg will be introduced around on Sunday at two receptions, one hosted by Susan Axelrod, the wife of Obama former strategist, CNN commentator and University of Chicago Institute of Politics founder David Axelrod, and their son Michael.

Axelrod told me because of all his connections, and his friendships with several people running for DNC chair, “I tend not to put my name on things. But when Susan and Michael wanted to do something, I surely didn’t object.”

The next DNC chair will be elected by the 447 voting members of the party. That’s ten people in Illinois.

In Illinois, the voters are DNC members state House Speaker Mike Madigan D-Chicago, the state Democratic party chairman; former Rep. Jerry Costello D-Ill.; Ald. Carrie Austin (34th); state Senate President John Cullerton D-Chicago; Rep. Danny Davis D-Ill.; former Comptroller Dan Hynes; state Sen. Iris Martinez; Downstate activist Jayne Mazzotti; Cook County Record of Deeds Karen Yarbrough and former state Sen. Carol Ronen D-Chicago.

Ronen is backing Perez. “I think Tom Perez is what the Democratic Party needs right now,” she told me. “…The Demoratic Party does best when we speak forcefully about our values, and he will,” Ronen said.

Madigan is officially neutral. A guess is that he is Perez friendly; daughter Attorney General Lisa Madigan worked on programs with Perez when he was at the Justice Department. Martinez is for Perez. Davis is not committed. Yarbrough is for Ellison.

Ellison came through Chicago last month. Among other elected officials backing him: Rep. Jan Schakowsky D-Ill.; Cook County Clerk David Orr and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.