ATLANTA — Democrats deadlocked Saturday afternoon after the initial rounds of voting to select a new national party chairman.

The leading contenders, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Tom Perez of Maryland, President Barack Obama’s former labor secretary, failed to clear the 50 percent-plus threshold among the 427 eligible voting members of the Democratic National Committee who voted on first ballot as they gathered in Atlanta’s downtown convention center to choose a new party leader.

Perez earned 213.5 votes (Democrats abroad each get one half of a vote,) one vote short of the threshold of 214.5 votes needed to win the election. Ellison came in second with 200 votes. A second round of voting was underway.

According to DNC rules, all candidates were to be considered on the second ballot, but a few chose to withdraw. On the subsequent rounds, the lowest vote-getters will be eliminated, until a winner emerges. Both Ellison and Perez were claiming the advantage heading into the vote. Dark horse Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of Fort Bend, Ind., dropped out of the race minutes before the voting began.

In the middle of the first round of voting, controversy erupted when the Ellison campaign claimed via text message to DNC voting members an endorsement from Buttigieg, which it was forced to retract. The Perez campaign was not happy.

“To clarify: I have made NO ENDORSEMENT for DNC Chair,” Buttigieg tweeted.

Democrats, energized by opposition to President Trump but unclear how turn that energy into votes, are hoping that the election of a new DNC chairman will allow them to unify their disparate insurgent and establishment wings and focus on defeating the Republicans in 2018. Democrats suffered massive losses over the past eight years, including majorities in the House and Senate, several governor’s mansions and nearly 1,000 state legislative seats.

“We can’t be a drive-by party anymore,” Ellison said Friday, speaking to Democrats desire to rebuild at the local as well as national level. “We’ve got to be a stay-in party.”

The chairman’s race has developed into a proxy war between Bernie Sanders insurgents and Obama establishment insiders. Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont is backing Ellison. Perez was endorsed by many in Obama’s orbit, including former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Andrew Werthmann, a DNC member from Wisconsin, a key midwest battleground crucial to the Democrats’ rebuilding efforts, said before the voting began that Ellison was best positioned to grow the party’s ranks.

“There’s a lot of excitement around Congressman Ellison from a lot of folks who I would say represent the grassroots of the party and people who are interested in becoming a part of the party,” he said. “Congressman Ellison helps build a bigger party for us and I’m excited about that.”

Bob Mulholland, a DNC member from California who described himself as a “pragmatic progressive,” was supporting Perez. “He’s got national connections,” Mulholland explained. “The number one job of the DNC chair is to raise money … If you raise money you can do a lot more organizing.”

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