President-elect Joe Biden is tapping former South Carolina Democratic Party chair Jaime Harrison to lead the Democratic National Committee, according to three people familiar with the decision, a major victory for state party heads and the powerful House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.
Harrison, a current associate chair and senior counselor at the DNC, will be charged with leading the Democrats through the tumultuous 2022 midterms and keeping the party’s warring factions together if party members formally elect him as expected this month.
For state party officials, many of whom continue to harbor resentment over the DNC’s diminishment during the Barack Obama administration, the selection of Harrison came as a relief.
Activist state party chairs and vice chairs also pressed for Harrison. About 70 of them sent a letter to Biden’s transition team in November that, while not naming him, listed a series of qualities that all “matched Jaime’s resume and experience,” as one of them put it.
Those party chiefs view Harrison as one of their own, a former state committee chair who will lead a decentralized DNC and advocate for plowing money into organizing at the state level — a departure, they hope, from how the party was managed under former President Barack Obama.
Harrison’s ascension to the top of the DNC is a sign of the growing clout of the South in the Democratic Party, which is likely to expand further after the Georgia elections of Sens.-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
But it’s also a sign of the influence wielded by Clyburn, a South Carolina congressman and top Biden ally who helped revive the president-elect’s 2020 campaign by endorsing him before his state’s primary.
Clyburn pushed for Harrison both publicly and behind the scenes, including by speaking to Biden about the position. Harrison previously was a staffer for Clyburn.
Biden and his team were exceedingly close with the DNC during his presidential run, with staffers in both operations joining each other’s conference calls and their respective leadership frequently coordinating on field troops and messaging. Harrison’s pick was something of a foregone conclusion, with DNC members viewing him as the frontrunner for months and no viable challenger emerging.
“Jaime will ensure all 57 state parties and territories have the funding we need to not only win elections but to also build up the infrastructure we need to organize year-round,” said Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “We cannot afford to be a party that parachutes in resources at the last minute.”
Tina Podlodowski, chair of the Washington Democratic Party, said “all of us are excited” about Harrison and as “a former state party chair, he obviously understands the issues that we need to deal with.”
DNC members will vote for their chair and the other positions between Jan. 18 and Jan. 21 on an electronic ballot due to concerns about Covid-19. When Democrats win the White House, this vote is typically a formality that ratifies the president-elect’s choices.
One of the challenges facing the party in the years ahead will be raising money without President Donald Trump in office to mobilize donors. Harrison, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last year, has shown a knack for fundraising. During his Senate run, he brought in $131 million, a record for a candidate for the chamber.
But some Democrats have questioned whether his ability to reap big sums while running against a leading boogeyman on the left will translate to fundraising for the DNC. Democrats will also face an uphill battle in the 2022 elections, when the party that controls the White House typically suffers losses.
“Of course we want to help President Biden, but the House and Senate and the governors races in 2022 are going to be the major focus of the DNC,” said Carol Fowler, a longtime Democratic official in South Carolina who is close with Harrison, acknowledging the fundraising challenges for the party in power. “Jamie can do it. He can get it done. Those of us who know him know he’ll be an exceptional leader and his focus will be on those races.”