Harrison previously served as chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and ran a tough, but losing, race against longtime South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham. The Washington Post and New York Times reported that Harrison is close with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who helped save Biden's primary campaign last year. He started out working for Clyburn before becoming a lobbyist, according to Politico.
“Jaime’s unique life experiences will serve him well as the chair. He grew up in rural Orangeburg, South Carolina, and is well prepared educationally and politically to lead the DNC," Clyburn told Politico in December. "His experiences as a state Democratic Party chair and associate chair of the DNC and his recent candidacy have provided him with a good understanding of local parties and organizations, and a heavy dose of empathy for candidates and their supporters.”
The 44-year-old drew eyes last year for his record-breaking fundraising, bringing more than $130 million in within just a few months as he sought to unseat Graham, one of the most powerful Republican figures in the country and a close ally of President Donald Trump.
“I can’t betray any conversations with Whip, but I know that it’s something that he seems to think that I could do. I’d put it that way,” Harrison told The Washington Post in November of his conversations with Clyburn about the position.
“If that’s something that they are interested in me doing, I’ll definitely take a good look. Got to weigh it all with my wife. I’ve got a lot of time on my hands these days. I can at least raise money, I can say that. The past few days, I’ve got a lot of text messages from folks, who are like, 'I heard Mr. Clyburn' or 'I heard James Carville mention you.' Listen, I’m flattered. But you know, at the end of the day it’s about who the president-elect decides to be the next chair,” he added.
While polling showed the Senate race in November to be fairly close, Graham went on to win handily with 55 percent of the vote compared to Harrison's 44 percent. But as Blavity previously reported, Harrison landed a number of powerful blows on Graham during the race and made a name for himself nationally with powerful performances during debates between the two.
Harrison ran for the DNC position in 2017 but lost to outgoing DNC chair Tom Perez, who has faced controversy throughout his up-and-down tenure in charge. According to The New York Times, Perez recently decided not to run for another term after he barely beat Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison in the 2017 race for the position. Harrison helped Perez beat Ellison by resigning and backing him months before the vote was held.
At the time, the party was still reeling from their disastrous performance in the 2016 election and a series of hacks perpetrated by the Russian government that revealed party chairman Rep. Debbie Wasserman took measures to make sure former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton won the primary race against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Incoming presidents generally take control of the party apparatus, as The New York Times notes. But former President Barack Obama made the controversial decision to create his own, separate structure during his eight years in office, a choice many Democrats have criticized for effectively weakening both organizations and starving state-level organizations of much-needed funding.
Politico also reported that Biden is supporting Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth for vice-chair roles within the DNC.
Other state-level DNC leaders were excited about the move as a marked departure from the Obama days and said Harrison understood their struggles after his own time as South Carolina's party chairman.
“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. We cannot afford to be a party that parachutes in resources at the last minute,” Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, told Politico.
Democrats are already looking toward 2022 as concerns grow that they may not be able to galvanize the same enthusiasm with voters now that Trump is out of office. Many are hoping Harrison will bring renewed focus and funding to the South, which has notoriously been ignored by senior Democratic leaders over the years, according to NBC News.
Harrison will be the third Black person to lead the DNC after Ron Brown and Donna Brazile.