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Underestimating Harrison would be a mistake

Underestimating Harrison would be a mistake

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Orangeburg native Jaime Harrison, who this past week made his bid to unseat South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham official, told The New York Times his campaign has a path to victory. He cites three keys:

Columbia cooperation is welcome

1. Energizing and turning out the African-American Democratic base across South Carolina.

2. Winning over key independents "disgusted by Lindsey’s kowtowing to Donald Trump."

3. Winning big in urban AND rural areas. "We’re not taking any voter for granted."

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There is nothing revolutionary in the strategy but there are several factors that make Harrison's bid particularly worthy of note.

It will be an uphill climb to topple Graham, who has risen to the chairmanship of the powerful Judiciary Committee. The Republican has a $4.6 million warchest for the campaign in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since the late Ernest Hollings retired in 2006.

Graham previously has been criticized in red-state South Carolina as too liberal for his efforts to work across the aisle on issues such as immigration. Six years ago, in the heyday of the "tea party," he had to overcome GOP primary opposition on the way to a third six-year term.

In 2020, Graham may be more popular than ever for his support of President Donald Trump on key issues. And with the election lining up as a "for Trump vs. against Trump" referendum, Graham should benefit in South Carolina.

Harrison, however, has overcome obstacles before. The former chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party and present associate chair of the Democratic National Committee, uses his life story as an example.

Weather has been extreme before now

In announcing his candidacy on YouTube, Harrison stated: "Born to a 16-year-old mom and raised by my grandparents in small town Orangeburg, we made do with the opportunities we created for ourselves — because that’s all we had.”

He tells of helping his grandparents read their bills and promising to buy them a home after theirs fell into foreclosure.

"And when a con artist took their life savings, I pledged to become a lawyer to protect innocent folks."

The 1994 graduate of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School went on to earn degrees from Yale University and Georgetown University Law School. He then climbed the ranks of the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill through a series of internships and career-defining moves that ultimately led to his candidacy for chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2017.

“Lindsey Graham can’t lead us in any direction because he’s traded his moral compass for petty political gain. Lindsey Graham has forgotten about the people he represents: you," Harrison says in the video.

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Harrison, who enjoys the support of leading Democrats including 6th District Congressman and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, is considered a certainty to win the nomination to face Graham.

He has the experience of another Orangeburg County native to gauge what has to be overcome. Orangeburg Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto in 2014 was defeated by Graham, who got 55% of the vote to Hutto's 39.

In 2020, Harrison will have to pursue the dual strategy of mobilizing forces for November with an eye on defeating Trump as much as Graham. That will mean getting every vote he can muster in an election in which pro-Trump, pro-Graham forces will not be taking anything for granted.

To win, he will need unique events to unfold his way and a dynamic not present to date in the politics of the Palmetto State. Yet no one should underestimate Jaime Harrison.

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