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Biden Taps Jaime Harrison To Lead Democratic National Committee

Jaime Harrison, seen here after conceding South Carolina's U.S. Senate election to Sen. Lindsey Graham on Nov. 3, is President-elect Joe Biden's choice to be the Democratic National Committee chair.
Michael Ciaglo
Getty Images
Jaime Harrison, seen here after conceding South Carolina's U.S. Senate election to Sen. Lindsey Graham on Nov. 3, is President-elect Joe Biden's choice to be the Democratic National Committee chair.

Updated Sunday at 9:40 a.m. ET

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Jaime Harrison to head the Democratic National Committee, elevating the South Carolina Democrat who emerged as a party star during his unsuccessful attempt at unseating Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2020.

"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 tweeted shortly after Biden's transition team announced his selection on Thursday.

Harrison is a former South Carolina Democratic Party chair, and his pick highlights the influence of another South Carolina Democrat, Rep. James Clyburn, the majority whip in the U.S. House.

Clyburn — a longtime Biden ally whom the president-elect credited for reviving his campaign ahead of the South Carolina primary — publicly advocated for Harrison to get the top spot at the DNC.

"I've been around this business for a while, and I can tell you, there's always tension between the county chairs and the national chair," Clyburn told CBS News in December. "To get someone who has already been a county chair, has gotten significant support from the chairs around the country, would be a real good thing."

If voted in, Harrison, 44, will be charged with leading Democrats into what's expected to be challenging midterm elections in 2022.

He's already proved himself to be a formidable fundraiser.

During his unsuccessful campaign last year for the Senate against incumbent Republican Graham, Harrison raised more than $130 million — a record at the time for a Senate campaign — including $57 million raised in the final fall quarter alone.

Although his candidacy failed — Graham won by roughly 10 percentage points in the red state — Harrison gained national name recognition.

Picking him to head the DNC highlights Democrats' continued incursion in Southern, traditionally Republican states, after the party swept Senate seats in Arizona and Georgia in recent months.

The Biden team also announced its slate of vice chairs, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth — all three of whom were at one point considered to be on Biden's short list for vice president. Biden has also tapped Texas Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. as a vice chair.

DNC members will vote for these positions, which hold a term from 2021-2025, next week.

As to what the party could expect with Harrison at the helm, the likely incoming chair offered a blueprint during his failed bid for the position in 2016.

"We can't just be focused on the White House. If we do what we have to do on a state level, then the White House is gravy," Harrison told NPR's David Greene in December of that year.

He added: "I bring a different perspective. I will probably be the — if elected chair — probably the only person that's ever been on food stamps that's been chairman of the Democratic Party, the only chair that will have over $160,000 of student loan debt. I mean, I can relate to the story of so many in this country who started behind the start line and now are trying to become successful."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.