Latest News

National Democrats pick sides in party’s fight to take on Lindsey Graham

There are two Democrats looking to challenge U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2020, but establishment heavyweights appear to have already picked their candidate to take on the South Carolina Republican.

According to an invitation obtained by McClatchy, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez Masto will serve as a co-host at a fundraiser Wednesday evening in Washington, D.C., for Jaime Harrison, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

In appearing at the event for Harrison in a formal capacity, Cortez Masto will send a message that the official fundraising apparatus for Senate Democratic candidates will support Harrison in a primary over Gloria Bromell Tinubu — a candidate for Congress in 2012 and 2014 and contender for lieutenant governor in 2018 who has also said she plans to run.

More significant is that Harrison has not even yet officially declared his candidacy: He has only launched an “exploratory committee” to assess his chances against Graham, a deeply entrenched incumbent in a deeply conservative state with millions of dollars in his war chest and increased popularity among his base.

But Cortez Masto’s endorsement of Harrison might come as no surprise. In February, Harrison met with DSCC executive director and other senior staff, along with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in the organization’s Washington headquarters.

Schumer, who is intimately involved in candidate recruitment, reportedly told Harrison, “you’re my guy.” A source familiar with the meeting described everyone in the room as “excited” about Harrison’s candidacy. And Harrison told McClatchy at the time that Cortez Masto had also been “absolutely fabulous as it relates to conversation and guidance and discussion.”

Though Bromell Tinubu has experience running for elected office that Harrison might lack — and legislative experience as a former member of the Georgia state House of Representatives — Harrison is viewed as the more viable of the two Democrats in the race so far, and the party could see advantages to lining up behind him so early in the process.

A native of Orangeburg, S.C., Harrison forged connections in Washington for many years as a senior aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a longtime top member of House Democratic leadership who is now House Majority Whip. Clyburn, Harrison’s mentor, has top billing among the hosts of the Wednesday evening fundraiser.

Harrison returned to South Carolina in 2013 to become the first black chairman of the state Democratic Party. After the 2016 election, Harrison ran for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, but ultimately settled for an associate chairmanship position, a portfolio that includes southern voter outreach and helping organize the party’s presidential primary debates and 2020 convention.

His connections in Washington and in South Carolina are further bolstered by his time working for the now-defunct Podesta Group, a lobbying and consulting firm with a roster of A-list clients.

In addition to Cortez Masto and Clyburn, fundraiser co-hosts include 2020 Democratic candidates vying for traction in the critical early primary state of South Carolina. They include U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, along with U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Eric Swalwell of California.

The event will be helped at a private residence near Capitol Hill, and contribution suggestions range from $250 - $2800, “but contributions of any size are much appreciated up to the maximum of $5,600 per individual.”

Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.