Read: A no-win situation for the Democratic chairman
More than just timing is involved. Harrison has the support of James Clyburn, his mentor and former boss, who is the House Democratic whip and whose endorsement during the primary campaign helped power Biden to the nomination. Yesterday, Clyburn pointed out to me that he had supported Harrison when he ran for DNC chair in 2017, and said, “I think he’s better prepared than he was when I supported him the first time.”
Clyburn told me he hasn’t mentioned the DNC-chair race to Biden, but “all of Biden’s friends know what I feel about it.” A Biden spokesperson declined to comment.
Clyburn’s support, Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said, “means the train has left the station.” Kleeb, who’s from a very different part of the party—she’s the political-committee chair of the Bernie Sanders–aligned group Our Revolution—told me she’s happy to see that support go to Harrison. Like several others I spoke with, she pointed to Harrison’s record as a state-party chair as giving her confidence in the kind of leader he would be. She’s just hoping that as the party elects other officers, members will promote regional and ideological diversity. Kleeb, for example, told me she’s planning to run for vice chair of the DNC herself.
Via text message, Harrison declined to comment, though earlier this week he told The Washington Post that he’d take a “good look” at running if asked.
Read: The South has already changed
Perez’s term finishes in February. Technically, the DNC chair is elected by the committee’s members. But when a Democrat is in the White House, the members tend to defer to the president’s choice. Biden has never been the party animal that, say, Bill Clinton was, but he is much more of an institutionalist than Barack Obama, who built his own political structure outside the DNC and oversaw eight years of atrophy and dysfunction within it.
Despite Perez’s improvements, some Democrats are eager for more changes at the DNC. Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus clashed with Perez, mostly because they remained frustrated that he’d pushed for reducing the role of superdelegates as part of the post-2016 reforms to the Democrats’ presidential-primary rules. Harrison, who is Black, has close relationships with many members of the caucus. He has a network of connections and donors coming off his Senate run, which gives him wider cachet. And his work as South Carolina’s state-party chair will appeal to other state-party chairs, who consistently grumble that they’re being overlooked. For Harrison himself, the job makes sense: For all the interest and fundraising he generated nationally, the election results make clear that South Carolina isn’t going to be a place for up-and-coming Democrats anytime soon.
The person with the most interest in how the DNC functions may be Vice President–elect Kamala Harris. Given all the speculation that Biden might not seek another term in 2024, she may be the politician whose future would be most obviously bound up in the long-term building and planning that the official party structure focuses on. But in the short term, the new DNC chair will be charged with supporting the Biden agenda.