Will Joe Biden pick Jaime Harrison to chair the DNC?
Even as his own fate on a frantic election night remained unresolved, Joe Biden found time to call Jaime Harrison after he delivered his speech conceding to Lindsey Graham in South Carolina’s U.S. Senate race.
Biden simply wanted to “pick him up and offer words of encouragement,” according to a friend of Harrison’s. Now, many Democrats assume Biden’s next call to the 44-year-old Harrison will be a formal offer to steer the national party.
“Because he ran for DNC chair, because he was a state party chair, because he worked on the Hill and certainly because he ran for the Senate, he knows what it takes,” said Clay Middleton, a Democratic National Committee member from South Carolina who is close to Harrison. “If President-elect Biden were to pick Jaime, there would not be an outcry of pushback.”
Before the election, DNC members were floating the names of state party chairs like Ken Martin from Minnesota and Jane Kleeb from Nebraska as possible contenders to succeed Tom Perez. But ever since influential South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn put out quiet word he was backing Harrison, the talk of rivals has diminished.
In fact, the biggest question isn’t if Harrison is the front-runner for the job. It’s if there’s even another viable alternative who will make a pitch for it.
In the end, the choice will be Biden’s alone, but some DNC members are already gravitating to Harrison, a testament to the connections he made during his unsuccessful 2017 run for DNC chair.
“Having DNC members and grassroots allies signal that we can work with him is helpful,” said Christine Pelosi, a DNC member from California who is backing Harrison. “My biggest reason to support Jaime is that he knows we need an outside force not only having the president’s back but helping navigate redistricting which is existential for states and Congress in 2022.”
“Jaime got a lot of support from grassroots rabble-rousers,” she added. “We are a rowdy bunch and he is better suited to managing us than someone we don’t know.”
The association of state Democratic committees has drafted a letter to Biden and his political team outlining ten attributes it would like to see in the next DNC chair. Two key requests, according to a copy of the document obtained by McClatchy, include choosing a person who has served in state party leadership and someone able to serve in the position full-time.
One critique of the tenure of former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was that her personal political interests as a Florida congresswoman were often seen as being in conflict with what was best for the party as a whole.
All of these factors point in the direction of Harrison, who ran the South Carolina Democratic Party from 2013 to 2017, and then went on to raise more than $100 million for his underdog U.S. Senate bid.
That he’s an African American who campaigned hard in a traditionally red state also resonates with DNC members who don’t reside in liberal areas.
As Democrats continue to dissect the root of their down-ballot losses in congressional and state legislative districts this cycle, many are already calling for greater diversity in the party’s leadership ranks.
“We have to have rural, urban and suburban representatives. We have to have all ideologies represented. The ideological and geographic diversity is something we haven’t done a good job on,” said Jane Kleeb, who chairs the Nebraska Democratic Party. “Generally there were significant losses at the legislative and mayor layers and that’s where state parties shine when they have the resources.”
The new DNC chair will also have to wrestle with the thorny question of the 2024 presidential primary calendar — and whether the majority-white states of Iowa and New Hampshire should keep their first-in-the-nation slots. As a South Carolina native serving a president whose campaign was resurrected by the state’s primary, Democrats pointed out Harrison may have a personal bias on that.
But first the job must be offered, and the timeline could still stretch weeks, given Biden’s focus on staffing his government first.
For his part, Harrison isn’t hiding his interest. On MSNBC Tuesday morning, he said he’d be good at the job, which just prompted more calls and texts that rallied support around him.
Asked if the DNC chair was a back-up to his Senate loss, Harrison was quick to tell McClatchy that it wasn’t. After all, he had wanted the DNC job first, running unsuccessfully for the post in 2017.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to rebuild this party, to revitalize this party. I’m a firm believer (when) one door closes others open,” Harrison said in an interview. “The Lord has a path for you, then that’s the path that you walk.”
The State’s Joseph Bustos contributed reporting.
David Catanese is a national political correspondent for McClatchy in Washington. He’s covered campaigns for more than a decade, previously working at U.S. News & World Report and Politico. Prior to that he was a television reporter for NBC affiliates in Missouri and North Dakota. You can send tips, smart takes and critiques to email@example.com.