Rep. Keith Ellison’s bid for chairman of the Democratic National Committee is at risk of being upended by early resistance from deep-pocketed campaign contributors.

The Minnesota Democrat was likely to struggle because he doesn’t have a relationship with many key donors, and sources say that appears to be hurting him.

“If the donors were excited about Ellison, no one would be looking for another candidate,” a Democratic fundraiser said.

“I don’t know anyone who has ever been involved in fundraising who’s excited about Ellison,” added a veteran Democratic operative.

The Washington Examiner interviewed close to a dozen Democratic insiders for this story; most spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid publicly criticizing the congressman.

Ellison could still win the chairmanship on the strength of grassroots support from the pro-Bernie Sanders wing of the party. Vermont’s independent senator is backing him over Labor Secretary Tom Perez and two other candidates.

But Ellison’s pitch to DNC voters, that he will invest the resources necessary to rebuild a decimated party, could prove hollow if he can’t raise money.

The work is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars that are typically difficult for party committees to raise from the kind of small grassroots donors that Ellison might attract. The DNC has no recent history of attracting big money, and typically trailed the Republican National Committee in money raised even during President Obama’s two terms.

That is among the reasons why many Democratic insiders are excited about Perez, who jumped into the race on Thursday. Also running are South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison and New Hampshire Chairman Raymond Buckley.

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“We need someone with presence and connections in the Democratic Party,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who is backing Perez. He said the new DNC chairman is “going to have to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for our party and our state and national candidates.”

President Obama also praised Perez on Friday, although he does not have a vote in the race and stopped short of endorsing him.

“Tom Perez has been, I believe, one of the best secretaries of labor in our history. He is tireless, he is wicked smart — he has been able to work across the spectrum of labor, business, activists. He’s produced,” Obama said, during a news conference.

Democrats backing Ellison reject accusations that he is a weak fundraiser or ill-positioned to bring in the resources the DNC needs for national party building. They note that he is among the top Democratic fundraisers in the House, and has donated generously to the Minnesota party.

Ellison raised $2.6 million into his personal campaign account during the two year 2016 election cycle, which is considered a solid two-year total for a House member. He donated more than $520,000 of that to Democratic candidates and party organizations, including $300,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s House campaign arm.

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A spokesman for Ellison’s campaign was unavailable when reached by the Examiner on Friday.

The 450 voting members of the DNC are set to choose a new chairman in February or March, after a series of candidate forums are held in Baltimore, Detroit, Houston and Phoenix.

The race is shaping up not as an ideological contest, since Ellison and Perez are similarly progressive on issues important to Democrats. Rather, it’s about the establishment versus the grassroots, not unlike what has characterized many of the fights inside the Republican Party in recent years.

Ellison represents the Sanders wing, which blames Democratic elites for paving the way for President-elect Donald Trump. In line with Sanders’ populism, Ellison is running for DNC chairman as the candidate who will re-engage with the white working class voters that bolted the Democratic Party for Trump.

But aside from the question of money, Democratic insiders, including many in the donor community, worry about Ellison, a Muslim from Minneapolis, and his ability to sell the party in the Heartland. And because he’s backed by Sanders, there are questions about whether he can unify the party and cultivate relationships across its various factions.

“I view the interest in Tom Perez as recognizing that you can have a progressive candidate who has broad appeal and would not end up creating divisiveness,” a Democratic donor said.

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