Updated 2:13 p.m. | Published: 1:35 p.m.Democrats were still deadlocked over who should lead their party in the era of President Donald Trump, with the contest between former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison headed to a second ballot on Saturday.
The election of chairman of the Democratic National Committee has animated the hundreds of party officials, donors and activists who convened in Atlanta.
The unusually competitive race highlights the intensity of Democratic soul-searching after Hillary Clinton's presidential loss, which capped a pronounced slide in the party's fortunes from Washington to statehouses around the country.
Tom Perez, labor secretary under President Barack Obama, fell within two votes of winning the party chairmanship on the first ballot Saturday. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison was about a dozen votes behind, leaving the race still undecided with 427 eligible party members set to vote again.
The third-place finisher, Sally Boynton Brown of Idaho, dropped out but made no endorsement to suggest how her 12 supporters should vote. Neither did Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, who dropped out just ahead of the first round of voting. Three other candidates remained on the ballot.
Earlier Saturday, Perez told DNC members the party was facing a "crisis of confidence" and a "crisis of relevance."
"We need a chair who cannot only take the fight to Donald Trump but make sure that we talk about our positive message of inclusion and opportunity and talk to that big tent of the Democratic Party," Perez said.
Ellison told party faithful that they "are the ones who are going to stand up, rise up and protect the American people."
Both men promised aggressive rebuilding efforts for state and local Democratic parties.
The chair campaign has been uncharted territory as Democrats face a power deficit not seen in nine decades. Republicans control the White House, Congress and about two-thirds of U.S. statehouses. The GOP is one Senate confirmation fight away from a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
With Democrats in agreement in their opposition to Trump, the race is likely to turn on who convinces enough DNC members to believe in his or her promises of rebuilding party infrastructure that withered under Obama despite his personal electoral success.
Ellison told voting members he has signatures from 750,000 rank-and-file Democrats who support his chairmanship bid. He promised to "convert them from demonstration energy to electoral energy." He pledged to prioritize small donations to finance the party, while working to "organize this whole country."
Perez said he would "rebuild strong parties" and "organize, organize, organize" so Democratic nominees could win "from the school to the Senate in all the states."
As he withdrew from the race, Buttigieg suggested that Democrats already have options for those races. "There's nothing wrong with our bench," said the 35-year-old mayor, pegged as a likely statewide candidate in Indiana. "We just haven't called enough people on the bench ... and asked them to get out on the field."
Perez got into the race at Obama's urging, but he has pushed back on the notion that represents the same "establishment" label that dogged Clinton's presidential campaign. Ellison has endorsements from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who challenged Clinton for the Democratic nomination, and also from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
For their parts, Ellison and Perez have praised each other and promised unity regardless of the outcome.
The winner will succeed outgoing Chairwoman Donna Brazile, who led the party as interim chief in the fallout from disclosure that internal party communications were stolen by hackers and leaked during the 2016 presidential campaign.
U.S. intelligence officials have blamed Russian agents and said Moscow's intention was to help Trump win.
Brazile said Saturday the party has worked with cybersecurity experts to address vulnerabilities. She chided Trump for his mockery of DNC cybersecurity and his doubts that Russians are at fault.
"No, Donald Trump, you can't go to Staples and buy anti-Russian hacking software," she said, urging Congress to investigate whether Russians hacked the Republican National Committee.
No RNC emails were leaked during the 2016 campaign. Republican officials insist their party communications were not breached. Brazile suggests that proves Russians wanted to help Trump.