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SC's Jaime Harrison becoming DNC chairman after unsuccessful Senate campaign

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CORRECTION Election 2020 Senate Harrison (copy) (copy) (copy)

Then-Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison speaks at a watch party in Columbia after losing the Senate race on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. File/Richard Shiro/AP

COLUMBIA — Jaime Harrison will be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee after falling short in his campaign against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham last year, with President-elect Joe Biden picking him to lead the party.

The long-expected development could prove to be a boon for South Carolina Democrats, who have sought to get more national attention and resources for years and will now have one of their own helming the party apparatus.

In a statement announcing his pick of Harrison as well as several other party posts, Biden said they "represent the very best of the Democratic Party."

"We need to elect Democrats across our country and up and down the ballot," Biden said. "To do that is going to take tireless leadership, committed to strengthening Democratic infrastructure across our states. These leaders are battle-tested and ready for this immense task. I know they will get the job done."

In a series of tweets, Harrison said he was "humbled and excited" that Biden had chosen him.

"Together, we’ll organize everywhere, invest in state parties, expand the map, and elect Democrats who will be champions for the working people of this country," Harrison said. "

A former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, Harrison shattered fundraising records and garnered national attention for his race against Graham, R-S.C., though the incumbent ended up defeating him by 10 percentage points.

Harrison was the immediate frontrunner for the DNC job, aided by his experience as a state party chairman, prolific fundraising ability and close relationship with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, who holds substantial influence with Biden after helping lift him to his Democratic primary victory last year.

Clyburn praised the selection Thursday.

"I've known Jaime Harrison for years — I know his heart, his passion for our party, his unmatched work ethic — and I commend President-elect Biden on an excellent choice," Clyburn said.

Graham also took notice of the pick, issuing words of congratulations.

"This is a big honor and I’m confident he will do a good job representing the Democratic cause," Graham said. "Jaime will be a formidable opponent."

Graham said he always likes it "when South Carolinians are recognized for their talents and accept leadership positions."

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"Good luck," Graham said to Harrison, "but not too much luck!"

In the months since his failed bid, Harrison launched a new political fundraising group called the "Dirt Road PAC" to support Democratic candidates in other races around the South. The group achieved its first success earlier this month with Democratic victories in two U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia, which gave Democrats the Senate majority.

He made no secret of his interest in the job, pointing to his diversity of experiences in Democratic politics — working for Clyburn on Capitol Hill, leading a state party and running as a statewide candidate — that have allowed him to build an expansive network within the party.

Current S.C. Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson said his predecessor's rise in the national party would be "exciting for South Carolina."

"Jaime brings a breath of fresh air because he understands what state parties go through, especially state parties in a state that might not be as purple or blue as other states, and that's welcome news across the country," Robertson said. 

Before running for Senate, Harrison ran for the DNC job once before in 2017 but dropped out before committee members began voting and endorsed the eventual winner, Tom Perez. He went on to become an associate chairman under Perez for the past four years.

The news of Harrison's upcoming ascension to DNC chair was first reported Thursday by the New York Times, and also reported by Politico and The Washington Post.

Over almost two decades of work in South Carolina politics, Harrison has been at the forefront of efforts to expand the political battleground to include more southern states, including his own.

During his Senate campaign, Harrison often touted his humble upbringing in Orangeburg. He rose from poverty there to attend Yale and Georgetown Law School before going on to work in state and national politics.

Harrison would be the first South Carolinian to lead the DNC since the late Don Fowler, another former S.C. Democratic Party chairman who took the reins of the national party for two years in the 1990s during former President Bill Clinton's administration.

Robertson lamented that Fowler would not be there to see his longtime friend follow in his footsteps.

"It's bittersweet," Robertson said. "His wisdom and counsel is something that would have been greatly valued."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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