Howard Dean drops out of DNC chair race

Sanders: Ellison is candidate we need for DNC
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  • He was expected to run against Keith Ellison
  • He says he has other priorities

Washington (CNN)Howard Dean has dropped his bid for a second stint chairing the Democratic National Committee, citing "other priorities" and a "possibly divisive" race.

"I'm not going to be a candidate for the DNC chairmanship," the former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate said at the start of an Association of State Democratic Chairs forum in Denver. "I think it could possibly be divisive. I have other priorities. I have a grandchild now. But I am fully dedicated to using as much time as I can to support whoever the chairman is."
A leading contender for the spot is Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is still in the running for the position despite criticism over his past ties to the Nation of Islam and his defense of its leader, Louis Farrakhan, resurfacing in the news this week. Ellison distanced himself from the group during his first congressional run a decade ago.
    Dean served as the governor of Vermont from 1991 to 2003 and gained a national following during his bid for 2004 Democratic nomination by drawing support online -- a fairly novel concept at the time -- which came up short. Dean then in early 2005 won a spirited contest to chair the DNC. During his tenure Democrats won control of the House in 2006, and Barack Obama won the presidency two years later.
    Dean earlier this month threw his hat in the ring for the reprise of that role, and was expected to be among Ellison's most formidable challengers.
    "The dems need organization and focus on the young," Dean tweeted earlier this month, proposing to renew the strategy. "Need a fifty State strategy and tech rehab. I am in for chairman again."
    The current head of the DNC is Donna Brazile, a longtime Democratic operative and former CNN contributor, who is leading in an interim capacity after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned on the eve of the party's convention last summer. Hacked emails appeared to show Wasserman Schultz and other since-departed DNC officials discussing ways to undermine Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' efforts against Hillary Clinton in the primary.
    Dean said late Friday afternoon he came to his decision "two or three weeks ago. Once I was in, I got a quick lay of the land. I think that I would have and could have won just with what we were able to accomplish last time I was chair," Dean told MSNBC on Friday.
    Dean also sized up current rivals to Ellison for the party leadership. He called Jaime Harrison, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, a "good candidate" and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley "very experienced."
    "I may make an endorsement down the line," Dean said.