The Democratic National Committee formally elected Jaime Harrison of South Carolina as chairman on Thursday, signifying an early alignment between newly inaugurated President Joe Biden and state party leaders around the country.
The party’s post-inauguration meeting, with election of a full slate of new officers, took place virtually, reflecting continued concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Vice chairs on the roster include Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. of Texas.
The selection by Biden of Harrison — a former chairman of South Carolina’s Democrats who proved his mettle as a fundraising powerhouse in his 2020 challenge to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham — as DNC chair keeps alive the tradition of sitting presidents choosing their own party’s chair.
Harrison will succeed Tom Perez, who won an unusually contentious open chairman’s election in 2017, when Democrats were out of power.
After Harrison dropped out of that 2017 race to back him, Perez tapped him as a deputy chair. Harrison, a Yale and Georgetown Law graduate, was a key liaison with state party leaders with whom Perez sometimes had challenged relationships.
“We know Jaime will commit to keep supporting state parties, and what we all need to do on the ground, to do more than just elect Joe Biden,” said Texas Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who saw disappointing local results in November as Republicans did a better job of turning out voters, including Latinos in south Texas.
Biden has committed to supporting state parties, with his inner circle assuring Democrats he won’t let infrastructure wither during his tenure.
Many local-level Democratic Party leaders remain wary after the down-ballot beating Democrats took even as President Barack Obama, with Biden as his running mate, won two national elections.
During their eight years in the White House, Democrats lost control of the House and Senate, also bleeding nearly 1,000 legislative seats around the country.
Harrison, 44, comes into the job with overwhelming support from state party leaders, making his elevation a sign of relative unity in a party organization often beset by infighting among state leaders and Washington power players.
Harrison cut his teeth in national politics as a top aid of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (South Carolina), a close Biden ally and the top-ranking Black member of Congress. Speaking to Harrison’s experiences, Clyburn said the new DNC Chair’s experiences “have uniquely prepared him for this moment and this mission.”
The pick is also in part a nod to South Carolina, where Black voters make up a majority of the Democratic electorate, and which played a major role in Biden’s win.
Following lackluster performances in the other early-voting contests, and a key endorsement from Clyburn, Biden won the first-in-the-South primary by more than 30 points, a victory that helped propel him to big wins on Super Tuesday and rack up the votes needed for the nomination.
“My buddy, Jim Clyburn, you brought me back,” Biden said after his South Carolina win, acknowledging the lifeline.
Harrison appeared on MSNBC’s “The Reid Out” and told host Joy Reid that he already has his sights on the 2022 midterm elections, and that the Democratic Party will concede no states to Republicans, and will employ a 50-state strategy to maintain and grow their power.