Jaime Harrison exits race for national Democratic party chair

Head of South Carolina's Democratic Party throws his support to former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez

Columbia’s Jaime Harrison, a seemingly viable though dark-horse candidate for chairmanship of the national Democratic National Committee, on Thursday dropped out of the race.

Harrison, most recently head of the S.C. Democratic Party, made the announcement just two days before DNC members were scheduled to select their new leader this Saturday in Atlanta.

Jaime Harrison (left) and Tom Perez (Photo provided)

In making his announcement, Harrison said he would be throwing his support to Tom Perez, who most recently served as Labor Secretary in the Obama Administration.

Harrison’s support could be significant, as the race appears to be between Perez and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Muslim-American congressman from Minnesota who is a favorite among the party’s left-leaning progressive bloc.

Following a televised debate among the DNC candidates Wednesday that aired on CNN, Harrison said he didn’t feel he had the votes to prevail and decided to back Perez instead. Harrison said via emails he would be appearing at and hosting events ahead of Saturday’s vote to support Perez, who would be the DNC’s first Latino chairman if elected.

“Last night’s CNN debate presented a tremendous opportunity to make my case to the Democrats domestically and across the globe,” Harrison said.

“I am grateful for the overwhelmingly positive feedback from emails, calls, and tweets about the debate,” he added. “Nonetheless, this is an election where victory is secured by garnering 224 votes out of 447. In a former job, I whipped votes for House Democrats. I know what a path to victory looks like. Despite strong performances at the debate and DNC regional forums, the votes are simply not there for me to secure victory on Saturday.”

Added Harrison: “If we stand together with Tom, we’ll rebuild the Democratic Party, win up and down the ballot in every state across the country, and enact a 21st century progressive agenda.”

Among those disappointed by Harrison’s withdrawal was none other than SCGOP Chairman Matt Moore of Lexington, who calls Harrison a close friend despite their vast political differences.

“Jaime Harrison would have been an outstanding choice for DNC chairman,” Moore told Cola Daily. “I wish my friend well and have no doubt he will continue to serve South Carolina in some capacity.”

Harrison, who also works as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and was a top staff member for Columbia congressman James Clyburn, made his announcement to run for the DNC chair on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show a mere week after Donald Trump and fellow Republicans swept to power last November.

In his campaign for the post, Harrison touted his impoverished upbringing as the child of a single mother, showcasing his resilience and his desire to make the moribund Democratic Party a force in all 50 states after its electoral body slam at the hands of the GOP.

Many S.C. Democrats quickly got behind him, as Harrison sought to wage a serious campaign, even though state Democrats were widely trounced in federal races.

While many Democrats supported Harrison, a handful of state Democratic candidates who lost their federal House and Senate races criticized Harrison for his and the state party’s perceived lack of financial and material support.

A four-member group of those candidates – under the banner “The Blue Brothers” – actively campaigned against Harrison, and even sent a letter to all 447 DNC members opposing his candidacy.

Arik Bjorn (Photo by Hal Millard)

One member of that group – Columbia’s Arik Bjorn, who fought unsuccessfully against incumbent GOP Rep. Joe Wilson in November – said, “Our ‘do not support’ stamp regarding Jaime Harrison’s candidacy for DNC chair was always about track record,” Bjorn told Cola Daily. “By all appearances, he’s a loving husband and father. He seems to get along with a lot of folks, including the South Carolina Republican Party chairman. But you have to judge someone’s leadership potential not by personality, but by his or her record.

“Two election cycles running, Jaime left open slots on federal ballots,” Bjorn added. “And there would have been 5 of 8—that’s 5 of 8—empty federal ballots in South Carolina in Election 2016 had not we non-career politicians stepped forward to throw our hats into the ring at the last moment.

“When we analyzed our collective experience with the South Carolina Democratic Party, which Jaime leads, we couldn’t find any evidence to support that he would positively advance the [national] Democratic Party – at one of the most critical political periods in U.S. history,” Bjorn said. “Really, if Jaime couldn’t mount a successful 46-county strategy in South Carolina, how could he possibly coordinate and lead a 50-state strategy for the entire Union?”