Jaime Harrison (copy) (copy)

Former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Harrison is launching a campaign to challenge U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. File/AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

COLUMBIA — Former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison formally launched his campaign to challenge U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, kicking off an underdog bid to become the first Democrat to win a Senate race in South Carolina in more than two decades.

In a three-minute, comic-book-themed announcement video released early Wednesday, Harrison charged that Graham has "forgotten about the people he represents" and cast himself as a candidate who would look out for South Carolinians from all walks of life.

"I won’t care who you voted for, what education you’ve gotten or what career you have," Harrison said. "I remember a time when senators helped the people they represent. I want to bring the spirit of helping back."

Harrison, an Orangeburg native who is now a top official at the Democratic National Committee, previewed his plans Tuesday night during an appearance on MSNBC. He has been actively exploring a bid since February.

Citing the victory of Joe Cunningham in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District last year and the narrow losses of Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams in the Florida and Georgia gubernatorial races respectively, Harrison argued that there are signs of political changes in historically conservative Southern states.

"We're on the verge of a renaissance in the South, a new South," Harrison told MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. "I really hope people will help join me in this effort."

One other Democrat so far has entered the race: Gloria Bromell Tinubu, an economist who was the running mate for Charleston businessman Phil Noble's ill-fated gubernatorial campaign last year and has run for Congress unsuccessfully twice before.

Several other S.C. Democrats are rumored to still be considering their own campaigns, as are some Republicans, though none are so far considered to be a significant threat.

In an interview with The Post and Courier, Harrison argued his upbringing in Orangeburg, combined with his political experience working for U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and leading the state party, made him the best candidate to take on Graham.

"This is the type of race where there would be a lot of interest from good Democrats because we all agree we want to send Lindsey home," Harrison said. "But the thing that sets me apart in this race is my life story, my understanding of all of the issues that are facing people right now."

Once a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, Graham was initially expected to draw credible GOP primary challengers. But his transformation into one of Trump's most reliable allies has significantly increased his popularity on the right while generating new levels of anger from the left. 

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Graham kicked off his own reelection bid in March with a pair of in-state rallies alongside Vice President Mike Pence, a clear signal that he would have the Trump administration's full support.

Harrison raised about $231,000 in the early weeks of exploring a campaign but he has a long way to go before he'll be able to compete with the $4.6 million Graham has amassed.

Republicans downplayed the threat of any Democrat winning a statewide race in the state for an election in November 2020.

S.C. GOP chairman Drew McKissick said Democrats had "spent months attacking Sen. Graham for standing up for conservative values and refusing to give in to the liberal smear campaign against Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

"Gloria Tinubu and Jaime Harrison hope to extract revenge by rallying liberals across America to their cause, but they are going to learn the hard way that South Carolinians appreciate the leadership that Lindsey Graham has brought to the issues they care about," McKissick said.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Nate Brand called Harrison a "looney liberal" and noted that national Democrats had encouraged him to run.

"Lindsey Graham is one of the most popular U.S. senators in the country because South Carolina voters know that he has delivered results and has been a tireless fighter for Palmetto State values," Brand said.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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