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Keith Ellison to endorse Stephen Bittel in Miami-Dade Democratic Party race

@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the frontrunner to head the national Democratic Party, is throwing his support behind a candidate in a controversial Miami-Dade County Democratic Party race.

On Thursday, Ellison endorsed Coconut Grove developer Stephen Bittel for Miami-Dade committeeman, Bittel confirmed to the Miami Herald. The race might seem minor, but whoever wins -- Bittel or state Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay -- will likely by default become the next Florida Democratic Party chairman.

Bullard, an early Bernie Sanders supporter, drew the backing earlier this year of Sanders' political organization, Our Revolution. Ellison was one of Sanders' most prominent supporters, so it's noteworthy that he backed Bittel instead. Bittel was national finance co-chair of the Democratic National Committee, which Ellison is hoping to lead. 

Bittel told the Herald Ellison's endorsement "validates my progressive credentials with the grassroots. It tells them I'm a guy with the right heart."

Bittel is Jewish, and could help the Muslim Ellison make friends with critics who think he's not in tune with the party’s Israel defenders.

Ellison did not respond to requests for an endorsement statement.

Bullard said he's awaiting confirmation from Ellison about the endorsement.

"It's a little troubling," he said. "Not to disparage Congressman Ellison, but I don't think he knows the full story of how everything sort of transpired."

This post and its headline have been updated.