COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — On the heels of his record-breaking but unsuccessful bid to oust U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison on Tuesday launched a political action committee, utilizing his newly minted status as a fundraising powerhouse to try to provide a sustained boost to other Democrats that he hopes can help flip more areas from red to blue.
Dirt Road PAC will focus on long term investments in state-level Democratic candidates and parties like intensive voter registration efforts in areas that have been seen by Democrats as harder to win, Harrison told The Associated Press ahead of the official launch.
“The days of just swooping in every few years and putting up a candidate, having no grassroots infrastructure and thinking that we’re going to win – that’s just not working,” Harrison told the AP on Monday. “I’m going to focus on investing and doing it in a much deeper manner, and going into areas where people have just been forgotten, or been given up on.”
First up, Harrison said, is fundraising for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Georgia Democrats running in the pair of U.S. Senate runoffs that could shift the balance of the chamber, and for whom he has already directly raised nearly half a million dollars. After that, Harrison said he will focus on Virginia’s 2021 elections, before turning to the 2022 midterms.
“Rome wasn’t built overnight,” Harrison told AP. “You’ve got to have long term and sustainable investment for it to pay dividends.”
The committee derives its name from a viral campaign video in which Harrison described an encounter with a South Carolina voter living on a dirt road who told the candidate that he’d be staying out of politics entirely “until either a Democrat or a Republican paves my road,” something Harrison said was symbolic of “the hardship that so many of us are suffering with across this state.”
Harrison, 44, raised a staggering $130 million in his campaign against Graham, becoming the first U.S. Senate hopeful in the country to cross the $100 million threshold. Throughout the race, Harrison repeatedly broke records in a year where several Senate races across the country reached into the hundreds of millions. In that effort, Harrison developed a national profile, amassing a stout list of cellphone numbers and email addresses he repeatedly tapped to compile small-dollar donations.
The one thing Harrison can’t do at the moment is contribute much of his own campaign money to his committee, transfers that would be allowed if he had spare cash on hand. Spending tens of millions on advertising, infrastructure and grassroots, there was little leftover in his coffers, and much of what remained has been pledged to fund healthcare for campaign staff through the end of this year.
Over the course of his campaign, Harrison also directed $15 million to the infrastructure of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
Despite his loss, theories abound over Harrison’s next steps, including a potential run for Democratic National Committee chairman, a post through which he would officially helm the party’s efforts through the 2022 midterm elections, as well as the 2024 presidential cycle.
Harrison — an associate DNC chairman and former lobbyist who also once led South Carolina’s Democratic Party — sought the top position before, ultimately backing out to support current chairman Tom Perez. Party leaders technically meet to select the next chairman, although that process could be expedited if President-elect Joe Biden weighs in with his pick.
Saying his immediate concern is boosting other Democrats through his political action committee, Harrison also made the argument that his resumé uniquely qualifies him to lead the national party officially, noting state and national-level party experience, work on Capitol Hill and as a candidate, as well as existing relationships with both Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
“I don’t think there are very many folks that you could find who have probably done all of those things and can step up into the DNC wearing those many hats, and understand the route that we need to take to rebuild our party,” Harrison told AP. “If the president-elect asked me, I would be happy to serve, to build back, better.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.