President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday named Jaime Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chair and 2020 Senate candidate, as his pick for the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Harrison has long been seen as the only candidate for the job. He will still be required to face an election by DNC members, but a win is almost a forgone conclusion with the support of the incoming president. DNC members will vote during a virtual meeting on January 21 – the day after Biden’s inauguration.
Biden also announced Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as his nominee to be the DNC’s vice chair of civic engagement and voter protection, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. of Texas as vice chairs. Bottoms, Whitmer and Duckworth were all under consideration to be Biden’s running mate.
Jason Rae, who’s a member of the DNC Executive and Rules & Bylaws Committee, was nominated to serve as secretary; Virginia McGregor, who serves as deputy national finance chair of the DNC and national co-chair of the DNC’s Women’s Leadership Forum, was nominated for treasurer, and Chris Korge, the national finance chairman for the DNC since 2019, was nominated again for national finance chair.
“This group of individuals represent the very best of the Democratic Party. Their stories and long histories of activism and work reflects our party’s values and the diversity that make us so strong,” Biden said in a statement.
The President-elect continued, “As our country faces multiple crises from systemic racism to the COVID-19 pandemic, working families in America need and deserve real leadership. We need to elect Democrats across our country and up and down the ballot. To do that is going to take tireless leadership, committed to strengthening Democratic infrastructure across our states. These leaders are battle-tested and ready for this immense task. I know they will get the job done.”
The Democratic National Committee is at a moment of change as Biden prepares to take office, shifting from an oppositional force challenging Donald Trump at every turn to a political megaphone for a Democrat-dominated Washington.
Harrison told CNN last week that he sees the job as being a reliable megaphone to tout White House and Capitol Hill accomplishments – something that changed when Democrats won control of the Senate.
“The job of doing the work is on the Hill and in the White House, the job of making sure that message gets out and it is promoted and disseminated to voters and so those voters have an understanding of it, I believe that’s the job of the DNC,” Harrison said, adding that the DNC’s messaging should make people “understand this is what you get, when you have Democrats in control.”
Before the Georgia runoffs were called, Democrats were preparing for Biden’s first years in office to be a slog defined by Republican roadblocks in the Senate. But once Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock swept to victory last week, a new reality dawned on Democrats: The Democratic National Committee will not only be an extension of the White House political operation over the next four years, but arguably the party’s most potent amplifier to herald and brag about Democratic accomplishments in Washington.
“The ante has increased dramatically after Georgia,” Harrison told CNN.
Biden is stepping into the White House hoping to avoid the fate of former President Barack Obama, who suffered major losses in the first midterms after his 2008 win. Many of the same political advisers around Biden currently were top officials during the eight years of the Obama presidency, creating the scenario of the 2022 midterms being a second chance for these Democrats.
In response to questions about how Biden will approach the DNC as president, a Biden campaign official said, unlike the Obama White House, the Biden team will not be creating an outside group like Obama’s Organizing for America and “instead will be channeling our efforts through the party structure.”
“Moving forward, the DNC under President-elect Biden will continue to invest in state parties and maintain a strong partnership with them,” the official said, an important point for state party chairs who, more than anything, just want to know that the funding from the national party will continue.
But questions remain about just how the Biden White House will work with the committee, with much of the focus falling to Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s incoming deputy chief of staff.
The DNC will fall within O’Malley Dillon’s purview in the White House, Democratic sources tell CNN, meaning Biden’s former campaign manager will be tasked with ensuring that the political committee works in step with Biden’s political goals. O’Malley Dillon was the executive director of the DNC after Obama’s 2008 election.
Harrison had been widely seen by broad swaths of the Democratic Party as the only real contender for party chair. After running the South Carolina Democratic Party, Harrison ran to be party chair after the 2016 election, eventually losing to Perez. Harrison then ran for Senate in 2020, challenging Trump loyalist Sen. Lindsey Graham. While he failed to unseat Graham, Harrison raised his profile and turned himself into a prolific fundraiser, raising over $130 million in what became a nationalized campaign.
Harrison was believed to be a strong pick by Democrats because he has held a number of party roles – state chair, DNC officer, candidate – and is viewed as someone who understands what it is like to be a Democrat in a red state where the investment is needed.
Harrison, should he win the expected support from DNC members, will take over a much different Democratic National Committee than the one current Chair Tom Perez took over in 2017. When Perez took over the DNC in 2017, party loyalists were aghast at two key issues: The state of disrepair inside the committee after the departure of former chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the level of distrust raging among more progressive Democrats over how Sen. Bernie Sanders was treated in his 2016 nominating fight against Hillary Clinton. Perez got to work on addressing both those issues, investing millions in rebuilding the party’s infrastructure and overseeing the creation of the Unity Reform Commission that studied the issues that led to the widespread mistrust.
“I’m a firm believer that good governance is great politics,” Perez said in an interview with CNN. “But what I’ve learned from 2009 and 2010 is that the misinformation campaigns that are going to come out there are going to be relentless. And so we need to make sure that we are not only delivering on our promises, but communicating to people across this country, exactly what we are doing.”
This story and headline have been updated with Biden’s announcement of Harrison as his nominee.