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Jaime Harrison is Biden's pick for Democratic National Committee chair

Harrison emerged as a star in Democratic politics after he shattered fundraising records in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison speaks at a watch party in Columbia, S.C., on Nov. 3, 2020.Richard Shiro / AP file

WASHINGTON — President-Elect Joe Biden on Thursday tapped Jaime Harrison to lead the Democratic National Committee, which will meet next week to formally elect a new chairman.

Harrison, 44, the former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, ran for the top national job in 2017 and lost to Tom Perez, who is now leaving the chairman job. Perez gave Harrison a senior role in the party.

Harrison then became a national Democratic figure and broke fundraising records in a failed bid last year to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Biden also selected Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to be the DNC's next vice chair of civic engagement and voter protection, while Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Texas Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. are to serve as vice chairs.

“This group of individuals represent the very best of the Democratic Party,” Biden said in a statement. “Their stories and long histories of activism and work reflects our party’s values and the diversity that make us so strong."

The high-profile names, some who had been in the running for Cabinet post, underscore how important the party apparatus will be to the new president, allies said.

“I’m thrilled by this slate of officers, all battle-tested, brilliant leaders that build on our party’s successes, reflect the great diversity of the Party, and will work to expand our successes up and down the ballot,” said Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden's former campaign manager who is now slated to become White House deputy chief of staff.

Democrats will have to defend narrow majorities in the House and Senate in 2022, which history suggests will be a tall order since midterm elections almost always break against the president's party.

Presidents typically select the person they want to want lead their party and the committee’s roughly 500 members are expected to ratify whomever Biden chooses for the role when they meet virtually next Thursday, a day after Biden’s Inauguration.

Perez, a former Labor secretary who helped rebuild the party after a brutal year in 2016 that included a Russian hack, accusations of bias by others Democrats, and the loss of the presidency to Donald Trump, has said he will not seek a second term.

Harrison raised over $130 million in his 2020 Senate bid and attracted national attention from liberals looking to oust Graham, but fell about 10 percentage points short. The $57 million fundraising haul he pulled in during the 2020 third quarter shattered the previous single-quarter fundraising record of any Senate race in American history.

Harrison, who is African-American, has long advocated inside the DNC for greater investment in Southern states, which Democrats have often written off, a strategy allies say was vindicated by Democrats’ recent wins in Georgia.

Harrison, who cut his teeth working as political floor director for Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., when he was House majority whip, was raised in rural Orangeburg and become the first member of his family to graduate from college and attend law school.

“We were in a ditch,” Perez told NBC recently of the state of the party when he took over. “We had to earn trust back.”

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His tenure was rocky at times and he had plenty of doubters and critics, but Perez said the fact that the party won back the House, Senate and White House under his watch speaks for itself.

And he said he was confident Biden will continue to rebuild the party, after former President Barack Obama was criticized by some for neglecting its infrastructure and focusing on his own political group, Organizing for America.

“I know now the president-elect is going to work hard to sustain that infrastructure. He’s very very attuned to the job of winning up and the down ballot, and not just federal races,” Perez said.

The New York Times first reported Harrison's selection.