Former Clyburn aide running for SC Democratic chairman

ashain@thestate.comFebruary 12, 2013 

— Jaime Harrison, a Washington lobbyist and former aide to U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, said Monday that he wants to succeed Dick Harpootlian as chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party.

If elected at the S.C. Democratic meeting May 4, Harrison would become the party’s first African-American state chairman. No other candidates have announced plans to run for the post.

Harpootlian threw his support behind Harrison, the state party’s first vice chairman for the past two years. Harrison has the contacts with national Democratic leaders needed to draw financial support to state candidates, he said.

“He is the right man at the right time,” Harpootlian said.

Harpootlian, who has a reputation for bombastic comments and heavy fundraising, said he has had enough of being state chairman. He has held the post for two stints totaling seven years, the last one lasting two years. “If you commit a murder, you don’t spend that much time in jail.”

Harrison thinks he can use his experience from 2006, when he helped Democrats win back Congress as executive director of the U.S. House Democratic Caucus, to lead the S.C. party to win U.S. Senate and statewide seats in 2014, including the Governor’s Mansion.

He said Democrats need to make a better case to voters that South Carolina’s economy has suffered during a decade of GOP leadership.

“I’m tired of South Carolina being last in everything,” he said. “I can take the party to the next level. This is a watershed year for Democrats.”

Harrison will have a tough task. No Democrat holds a statewide office. Harrison said he hopes state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, will run again against Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican from Lexington. Sheheen has not formally announced.

Harrison, 37, works for the Podesta Group where he represents, among others, the University of South Carolina and S.C. Ports Authority as well as Boeing and Michelin, which have major S.C. operations. He specializes in transportation issues.

Harrison worked for U.S. Rep. Clyburn, D-S.C., for six years from 2002-08 before joining the lobbying firm, headed by a former chief of state to President Bill Clinton. The Orangeburg native graduated from Yale University and Georgetown University law school.

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