As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, 47, who rose to his position two years ago from statewide politics in South Carolina and whose profile has risen along with his state, must try to play mediator between an angry state. Democrats and a White House that expects loyalty from the national organization. For now, Harrison is optimistic about all of it. The New Hampshire situation. Biden’s advanced age. The party’s declining share of many demographic groups, especially Latino voters and those without college degrees. A dire Senate map where Democratic incumbents in Montana, Ohio and West Virginia could fall, along with the former Democratic senator in Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, plunging Democrats into an indefinite minority.
In Harrison’s office at DNC headquarters, which overlooks the Capitol dome, hangs a portrait of Biden with Jim Clyburn, the 82-year-old South Carolina congressman whose support and champion of Biden in 2020 is credited with saving his candidacy. . Displayed above Harrison’s desk is a vintage sign for Ron Brown, who in 1989 became the first Black chairman of the DNC Brown and Clyburn are both heroes to Harrison, who was Clyburn’s intern and, later, his director of floor operations when the congressman served as. majority whip A lucrative private sector career followed as a lobbyist with the Podesta Group. With Clyburn’s blessing, he became chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. Harrison then ran a very high-profile, extremely expensive and ultimately unsuccessful campaign in 2020 for the senate seat held by Lindsey Graham. Now Clyburn’s protégé heads a DNC that has put their home state, where Harrison still lives with his family, quite literally first.
Harrison insisted that Clyburn never advocated for South Carolina as the very first state—only for it to retain its status as the first of the Southern states. “I think for him, he always wanted South Carolina – and I felt the same way – we enjoyed and took a lot of pride in being the first in the South,” Harrison told me on a June afternoon, sitting under that portrait. “People early on thought, Oh, my God, James is the chairman of the DNC, so he’s going to put his finger on the scales for South Carolina. And all will tell you that I was equal in this. The only thing I wished was that South Carolina would to stay, because I think it earned its place as an early state.” But South Carolina, of course, stepped up, and Harrison is now thrilled. “National Geographic said that 90 percent of African-Americans can trace one of their ancestors to South Carolina. In our primary, 50 to 60 percent of the people who vote in the Democratic primary will be black. Think about how powerful this is, that the descendants of those enslaved people will be the very first people in this country to determine the most powerful person on the face of this planet. That’s transformative.”
Some dissidents in the DNC, made up of New Hampshireites and some Iowans, progressives and union members, see it differently: Biden is lifting a state that a Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t carried since 1976. Beyond Clyburn, there are few Democrats of note in South Carolina, and the state has the lowest percentage of union membership in America. Progressive candidates could, cycle after cycle, run into a wall of opposition there.
The persistent dilemma that no version of the primary calendar could solve is how to account for the Democratic Party’s various long-range challenges. A first-in-the-nation South Carolina primary is lending black moderates, a key Democratic constituency, the kind of power many believe they deserve. White rural voters — the kind who must be wooed in Iowa and New Hampshire — have not proven loyal to the Democratic brand. But there are only so many of them that Democrats can afford to lose in a general election. New Hampshire, which Biden carried by less than 10 points in 2020, is not guaranteed to be blue forever.