Jaime Harrison, the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, has emerged as a possible alternative to Representative Keith Ellison for the Democratic National Committee Chair. Since the Minnesota Congressman has several past controversies to his name, the 40-year-old Harrison could be seen as a better choice. He would be the youngest DNC chair in the party’s history if elected, and he represents a state that hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since 1976.
Although Harrison is relatively unknown, he got a major boost courtesy of his mentor, Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Earlier this week, Clyburn endorsed Harrison for DNC chair. The vote isn’t until February, but the DNC is hosting a meeting in Denver, their first national meeting since the election ended. In addition to Ellison and Harrison, the other candidates for the DNC chairmanship are Ray Buckley of New Hampshire and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.
His is married to Marie Boyd and lives in Columbia, South Carolina. They have a son named William.
Here’s a look at Harrison’s career.
1. Rep. Clyburn Says Harrison Has the ‘Experience, Vision, and Commitment to Rebuild Our Party’
Clyburn, who is the House Assistant Democratic Leader and the third-ranking Democrat in the House, endorsed Harrison for DNC Chair on November 30 with a lengthy letter to DNC members, urging them to vote for Harrison.
“He has the experience, vision, and commitment to rebuild our party and to return us to victory on national, state, and local levels,” Clyburn wrote. He explained that Harrison has the ability to connect with average Americans. Clyburn also noted that Harrison would take the job full-time, while Ellison still hasn’t committed to leaving the House if he becomes DNC chair.
“I often say that no one is any more or any less than what their experiences allow them to be. Jaime’s experiences have made him adept at connecting with people at all levels — from South Carolina fish fries and Maryland crab boils to the hallowed halls of our finest colleges and universities,” Cylburn wrote. “Jaime is well regarded by many of my colleagues here and by Democrats from around the country.”
Harrison’s first job in politics was as policy advisor for Clyburn from 2003 to 2005. He also worked in the House as executive director for the House Democratic Caucus and Floor Director and Counsel for Clyburn when he was Majority Whip.
2. Harrison Is the First African-American Chair of a Major Political Party in South Carolina
When Harrison was named the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party in 2013, he also became the first African-American chair of a major political party in the Palmetto State.
“The thing I want to be known for is rebuilding the South Carolina Democratic Party and winning in 2014,” Harrison told the Post And Courier in 2013. “I’d rather have that title than ‘the first African-American chair.’ Both would be an honor. I’ll be glad we checked that box and moved forward.”
Harrison knew he faced an uphill battle in a state that is predominately red. “The state government has been controlled by the Republicans for over a decade. There are no Democrats in statewide office. There is only one Democrat in the congressional delegation,” Harrison told the Times and Democrat in 2013.
The South Carolina General Assembly is still mostly Republican, but there are 18 Democrats in the Senate and 46 in the House.
3. Harrison Was Also a Lobbyist for the Podesta Group, Co-Founded by John Podesta
From 2008 until November 2016, Harrison worked as lobbyist at the Podesta Group, which was co-founded by Hillary Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta. Most of his clients were in the transportation sector.
In his 2013 interview with the Post and Courier, Harrison was asked if he thought he would be criticized for working at Podesta while also being South Carolina Democratic Party chair. He compared it to working for a law firm.
“In transportation policy, it doesn’t get very partisan,” Harrison said. “I’ve talked to folks in my firm and my clients. They have Democrats and Republicans on their boards, Democrats and Republicans who work for them.”
Harrison will take a leave of absence from Podesta while campaigning to be DNC Chair.
4. Harrison Grew up With a Single Mom & Was the First Member of His Family to Graduate From College
Harrison was raised by his single mother and his grandparents. According to his SCDP biography, he is also the first member of his family to get a college degree. After graduating from high school in Orangeburg, South Carolina, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale and his Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center.
Harrison also worked as a teacher in his hometown before entering politics full-time. His wife, Marie, is also a teacher. She is a professor of law at the University of South Carolina.
After working for state lawmakers in Orangeburg, Harrison found work with Clyburn.
“I always call Clyburn my political dad in so many ways,” Harrison told the Post and Courier. “I’ve learned so much from him. We’re the same when it comes to recognizing what is at the core of being a Democrat is making sure we provide opportunity to everybody to be the best person he or she can be.”
5. Harrison Thinks the Democratic Party Needs to Focus on ‘Bread and Butter Issues’ That Affect People’s Everyday Lives
Harrison announced his plans to run for DNC chair just a week after the general election last month. In an interview with the Post and Courier, Harrison said that the party needs a change in focus.
“We need to go back to where the party used to be, which is not a political organization but a community organization,” he said, adding that the party needs to care about winning seats in all state governments, not just reliably blue ones.
“We need to talk about the bread and butter issues, to talk about people’s daily lives. I think that is at the core of what we have to do as a party and that has to be the focus of the next chair,” Harrison said.
He also doesn’t like the idea that Democrats have been split up into camps. Rather than there being “Bernie Democrats,” “Hillary Democrats” or “Obama Democrats,” he wants the party united.
“The only thing I’ve ever known is being a Democrat,” he said. “Those sorts of divisions, having to choose one or the other, a litmus test for determining who is a true Democrat – we need to leave that to the Republican Party. That’s not the big tent Democratic Party that I grew up in.”