Nearly a year and a half ahead of the 2020 election, a host of Democrats have already announced presidential runs and are gearing up for a bruising campaign.
One rung down from the national political slugfest, however, is Jaime Harrison, the associate chair of the Democratic National Committee, who recently formed an exploratory committee as he takes aim at Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s South Carolina seat in the U.S. Senate.
Harrison spoke about his experience in politics and encouraged students to get involved at a talk at Scripps College March 1. At the event, hosted by the Democrats of the Claremont Colleges, Harrison acknowledged that South Carolina typically votes Republican but thinks he has a chance.
“It’s not going to be easy, but there’s a path,” said Harrison, also the former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party. “If I can get … Democrats along with some of these Republicans who don’t like [Graham], then we can pull together a coalition that gets me across the finish line.”
“I always stress to young people, particularly young people of color, the importance of getting involved in having a voice heard and making sure you and the community you come from is represented,” Harrison said.
The 2018 election ushered in the most diverse Congress in history, and Harrison emphasized the importance of having diversity among staffers as well.
“If you know anything about Congress, you understand that a lot of policy gets made on a staff level, not even when members are in the room,” Harrison said.
In an interview with TSL prior to the event, Harrison said his run for the Senate was partly motivated by Graham’s angry statements accusing Democrats of conducting an “unethical sham” during last fall’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, during which Christine Blasey Ford accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, then a nominee, of sexually assaulting her. Graham now chairs that committee.
“I saw the performance of [Graham], and it just didn’t sit well,” Harrison said. “I totally believe if you’re for Kavanaugh, you can be for Kavanaugh, but you don’t have to demonize the women.”
Harrison also criticized Graham for being too focused on gaining the approval of President Donald Trump. Harrison said his priority is his home state.
“We need someone right now in Washington, D.C. who is going to fight for the people of South Carolina first and foremost, before president, before party, always looking to push what’s in the best interest of the state and citizens,” Harrison said.
Harrison admitted there are differences between the Democrats he was visiting in California and the ones in his native South Carolina.
“I always stress to young people, particularly young people of color, the importance of getting involved in having a voice heard and making sure you and the community you come from is represented” – Harrison.
“I would say probably the Democrats in California are much more progressive than in South Carolina, but ultimately I think we all want the same thing,” Harrison said.
Immigration is not as much of a “hot button issue” in South Carolina as it is in California, Harrison said.
Instead, he said climate change, health care, infrastructure and education are the main issues he’d like to address.
As of 2017, 11 percent of South Carolina’s population lacked health insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the eighth-highest rate in the country. With regard to infrastructure, Harrison wants to fix the roads and bridges, which he said are “falling apart,” and improve broadband communication to address dead-zones in the state.
He also discussed the issue of student debt, and said he graduated from college with $160,000 in student loans.
“Yet there are people in Congress who are trying to make it even more difficult for young people in terms of the interest rates,” Harrison said.
Selena Lopez PO ’22, who is from Charleston, South Carolina, said she intends to vote in the 2020 election.
“Hopefully, people in South Carolina stray from the norm of voting Republican and see that Harrison is a strong and capable candidate to hold the SC senate seat,” she said via message.
However, Jaida Potts PO ’21, also from Charleston, said she thinks Democrats are “absolutely not” going to win the election in South Carolina, citing the state’s past preference for Republican politicians. Graham won his 2014 race by nearly 20 percent of the vote.