Over the next several days, Perez focused on damage control — fielding tough questions from the media, reassuring the campaigns the problems were isolated to Iowa, and listening to party members who were angry and embarrassed over the mess.
This time, Perez will be on the ground in Nevada, according to a DNC official. The intended message is that the Democratic nominating process is in good hands. But Perez’s presence also means he and the national party will assume more responsibility for what happens — good or bad.
Even defenders of Perez acknowledge the impossible task he’s been handed.
“The DNC is always everybody’s punching bag when something goes wrong. Always,” one DNC member sympathetic to Perez told CNN. “The job is a thankless one.”
Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist, former DNC spokeswoman and CNN contributor, put it more bluntly. “You’re not going to be everyone’s favorite person,” she said.
“What is the value of him as chair?” said one senior Democrat who has inside knowledge of how party leaders are feeling. “He is not a good fundraiser. He is not good on TV. The members don’t like him.”
Enemies in Iowa
“Well, again, the Iowa Democratic Party runs the caucus. OK?” Perez said. “What happened was unacceptable. At the same time, we came in there. We want to make sure that everything is right.”
“The idea that Perez would distance himself from the Iowa Democratic Party is really to protect himself,” said Jack Hatch, the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor of Iowa who remains active in the state party. “That’s when you needed the national party chairman to step up and defend us, and he didn’t.”
“Tom Perez has to answer a lot of questions and can’t throw Troy Price under the bus,” Mike Kiernan, a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, told CNN. “It’s evident now that the DNC was intimately involved with the software that malfunctioned.”
The DNC official said Perez has been in touch with the Nevada Democratic Party to ensure there’s not a repeat of Iowa.
“He’s been talking regularly with the party and making sure they have lessons learned,” said this official.
The charm offensive
One week after Iowa, Perez was back on Capitol Hill. According to a DNC official, as well as multiple Democrats who spoke to CNN, there were rumors that one of Perez’s most vocal critics, Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, was planning to circulate a petition to call for his ouster. That, plus a letter signed by four senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus raising concerns about Iowa and voter security prompted Perez’s charm offensive with Democratic lawmakers.
According to multiple Democrats with knowledge of his actions, Perez met with select members of the House Progressive Caucus — the CBC, and Bold PAC — the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to calm members’ concerns about the integrity of the primary process. He also called House Democrats directly to head off the rumor of the Fudge petition.
Members of the CBC have long been mad that Perez eliminated a potentially decisive role for superdelegates on the first ballot at the convention and are now unhappy at what they view as a lack of diversity in key appointments, including for committees at the national convention. Also, lawmakers say they have been blindsided by some of Perez’s decisions, saying they need to be kept in the loop.
“They really don’t understand how to talk to members,” one Democratic source said of the DNC, venting frustration at Perez in particular.
At a private meeting with five members of the CBC last Thursday, Perez tried to alleviate concerns on several fronts, but lawmakers left with lingering worries.
Rep. Karen Bass, chairwoman of the CBC, told CNN the focus of the meeting was mainly on the security of the six remaining Democratic caucuses. But she said they also discussed diversity within the ranks of the party as well as how to foster “better communication” between the DNC and congressional Democrats.
While Bass said the meeting was not contentious, and “no one was calling for his removal,” she said there were still persistent complaints about several matters, including diversity in DNC appointments. Asked if Perez alleviated concerns about its handling of Iowa and the upcoming caucus states, Bass said lawmakers remain worried.
“I think that people might feel a little better because of the communication. But I don’t think it would be accurate to say that people felt fine afterward,” she said.
All about Nevada
Presidential campaigns have been told to contact early caucusgoers in Nevada who did not complete ballots that are now considered invalid, raising more concerns the results will be incomplete or unreportable on Saturday.
The process of melding the ranked choices of these early caucusgoers with active participants means precinct officials will have to conduct a complex bit of math to arrive at a correct count — using a new web-based calculating tool to replace some aspects of the app from Iowa. That has meant more training of volunteers and local party officials to quickly bring them up to speed.
One volunteer who spoke with CNN earlier this week, Seth Morrison, did not sound confident about the ability for Democrats to juggle all the details with counting votes properly at the caucus.
UPDATE: The story has been updated to include a statement from DNC about its involvement with the app used by the Iowa Democratic Party.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Adam Levy, Holmes Lybrand and Jamie Gangel contributed to this story.