CHARLESTON, South Carolina — I met Jaime Harrison, the first African American chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, before the recent Democratic presidential debate.
And I learned this: Harrison is a man on a mission. He’s working overtime to fire-up his base and create a sense of urgency among Democrats before the Feb. 27 primary.
“My goal is to re-energize the Democratic Party leadership in South Carolina and re-energize voters,” Harrison, 39, a lawyer, said in an interview.
“We need stronger operations in counties throughout South Carolina,” he said. “We can’t win statewide if our local counties can’t get the vote out.”
Harrison, who brings his own brand of energy to the South Carolina Democratic leadership post, is most proud of a new video venture called “Chair Chats,” where he interviews local and national politicians, educators, and newsmakers.
He said the concept for “Chair Chats” started “when I was sitting on the porch rocking with my granddaddy and talking about family. So during “Chair Chats,” I talk to a variety of people, sitting in rocking chairs, sipping lemonade, and talking politics and about life.”
He says he wants to “humanize” politicians and newsmakers for South Carolina voters.
So far, Harrison has interviewed Princeton University professor Cornel West; Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Rep. James Clyburn; (D-SC). Harrison is scheduled to interview former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in the coming weeks.
Originally from Orangeburg, South Carolina, Harrison was a former director of floor operations and counsel for Clyburn and he worked closely with the House and Senate leadership. He also served as executive director of the House Democratic Caucus.
According to his website, Harrison was named six times as one of Roll Call’s “Fabulous Fifty Movers and Shakers Behind the Scenes on Capitol Hill” and he was listed as one of The Hill’s “35 Stellar Staffers Under 35.” As a first-generation college graduate, Harrison earned a bachelor’s from Yale University and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
And now he’s planning to shake up the state’s Democratic leadership, county by county.
“South Carolina is not a Republican state, but it is a conservative state and we have to give our candidates a fighting chance,” said Harrison, now in his second term in the position. “My emphasis has been on young people — ages 20-35 –and we have to make inroads among young white voters, too.”
Sanders is now locked into a statistical tie with Clinton in Iowa, according to recent polls, while he still holds a sizable lead over Clinton in New Hampshire. But in South Carolina, where the primary is scheduled for Feb. 27, Clinton leads Sanders handily in most polls.
Sanders, however, says he plans to win South Carolina with help from African-Americans voters. Both candidates have campaigned aggressively in South Carolina.
At a recent reception in Charleston, Harrison worked the room with a wide smile and a tight handshake, greeting guests and making sure he connected people, both Black and white, during the evening.
When Congressman Clyburn walked into the reception, Harrison shook his hand and they shared a laugh.
“I’ve been mentoring this young man since he was in the 11th grade,” Clyburn said affectionately. “And I can’t get rid of him!”
Harrison smiled, hugged Clyburn, and quickly turned to greet more guests.
Networking is what Harrison does best and his down-home style in a high-profile Democratic leadership role could encourage more South Carolina residents to vote in next month’s crucial primary.
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