When it comes to soliciting your votes, all politicians have a story to tell. But never has a politician’s origin story sounded so much like my own as South Carolina’s Democratic Senate Candidate Jaime Harrison.
As a white woman of apparent privilege, many might take offense I would say such a thing. But like Harrison, I am the product of a teenage pregnancy. I was also raised by my maternal grandparents, who labored hard for what little we had. Despite working non-stop for three years, we lost our house, car, furniture — all we owned — to unscrupulous bankers as collateral on a restaurant. Like Harrison’s family, mine ended up living in a mobile home.
We were both good students, Jaime Harrison and I; members of the National Honor Society in our public schools. His academic prowess and the faith of his teachers led him to a Yale scholarship and eventually to Georgetown for his law degree. Of a different generation, I paid for college through military service in the final years of the Vietnam war and used the G.I. Bill to earn a journalism degree at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
And there our origin stories diverge. But as any good character from a Marvel comic or movie demonstrates, the origin story is the basis for all that comes after it.
A lover of comics, Harrison could appreciate the analogy.
And the political race Harrison is currently waging against Republican Senate incumbent Lindsey Graham has been marvelous to behold to date.
As I write this, Graham, who was in the lead in an October 15 poll, is still coming off four days of Supreme Court nomination hearings on Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late great, Notorious RBG. The most recent polling has Harrison up by 2 points, 47% to Graham’s 45%, within what pollsters call “the margin of error.”
Of course, Graham’s very good week is because Lindsey was being himself B.T. (Before Trump). His demeanor was quite demure compared to his outraged and outrageous behavior during the hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which was Lindsey A.T. (After Trump).
Which is one of Lindsey Graham’s biggest problems as a candidate right now: when will he flip from being Lindsey B.T. back to Lindsey A.T.? Voters don’t know, which is what makes Harrison’s origin story so compelling…Jaime Harrison is still Jaime Harrison, without pretense.
Which isn’t to say he is a political neophyte, because he isn’t.
He has a degree from Yale in political science, and he served as his college class president and as co-chair of the Yale Black Political Forum, according to a compelling feature story in The Atlantic.
After college, Harrison returned to his public high school in Orangeburg, South Carolina, to teach social studies for a year before moving onto Georgetown Law. In his last year of law school, he moved onto the staff of South Carolina Senator James Clyburn, then Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. It was a job where Harrison would learn to wrangle votes.
Clyburn and Harrison had met before, in Harrison’s junior year of high school. Harrison wrote Clyburn a letter asking him to speak at Harrison’s installation ceremony into the National Honor Society. Clyburn was struck by the pluck of the 11th grader to ask a sitting member of Congress to such an event. “I had to meet him,” Clyburn said.
While Harrison would go on to work later at places like the Port of Charleston and the University of South Carolina, in 2013 he was back in the political arena, elected to be “the first African-American chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party.”
He later ran to head up the Democratic National Party (DNC), losing to Tom Perez, but becoming an Associate Chair and senior counsel to the DNC while also working to pay off his law school student loans and buy his family a home.
But he couldn’t replace the leg his grandfather lost to undiagnosed diabetes (and a lack of health insurance) while working to pave decades of new roads in and around Orangeburg. That experience was part of Harrison’s motivation to run for the Senate.
Harrison says he is “willing to work with anyone, regardless of party, to champion solutions that can make the American Dream a reality for more South Carolinians, from growing the middle class to protecting healthcare coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.” That would include diabetics like his grandfather, who are in danger of losing those guarantees if the Affordable Care Act is struck down on Nov. 10 by a Supreme Court with a newly installed Justice Barrett. The same Barrett who critiqued Chief Justice John Roberts’ rationale for protecting the ACA in an earlier challenge. The same Barrett being so safely and swiftly shepherded through the confirmation process by Graham, whose face gleamed with pride when he called her the most qualified person of character to be considered for nomination.
Given President Donald Trump’s assertion that Barrett will be seated before the Nov. 3 election, which he threatens to contest before the Supreme Court if he doesn’t win, it is hard to know if Graham’s sudden bout of modest Senate camaraderie is coming from Lindsey Graham B.T. or Lindsey Graham A.T.
“I feel a little sad for Sen. Lindsey Graham,” Harrison noted on an ABC News “Powerhouse Politics” podcast, referring to the lengths Graham has gone to please Trump — even to the point of the diminution of the friendship Graham once enjoyed with the late Sen. John McCain.
But, Harrison added, not sorry enough to “relent” in his campaign against Graham, for which Harrison has raised more money — $57 million alone in the third quarter — to wage that fight than anyone else running for Senate. Ever.
Yet, on Oct. 19, Harrison, appearing on The Last Word, told host Lawrence O’Donnell that his campaign needs to continue pushing for donations. Republicans recently dumped $20 million behind Graham in an effort to reach the 5% of undecided South Carolina voters. Current projections have Graham (with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s help) outspending Harrison by $6 million in the race’s last two weeks. Harrison also said that in the face of voter suppression, he and the Democrats have built a “robust” voter protection program to make sure every eligible voter who wants to vote in South Carolina can do so.
“I’m running against a guy who cares more about his own political relevance and his political power than he does about addressing the issues that people are dealing with here on a day-to-day basis,” Harrison told Axios.
For the married father of two, those issues include not only healthcare, but things like “education, infrastructure and broadband access for rural Americans.” Protecting the environment and seniors, ending poverty, defending democracy and national security, taking care of veterans and reforming criminal justice are other issues Harrison plans to tackle if elected.
Harrison wants a “new South that is bold, that is inclusive, that is diverse.”
But it is an older version of Washington, D.C., he hopes for if he is elected; Harrison says “we are all in this together” and it is that “spirit of togetherness” he would like to see in Congress once more.
Because when a person or an institution strays too far from its origin story, it becomes something it was never intended to be.
As Harrison told O’Donnell, the contrast between himself and Lindsey Graham is clear. Graham is trying to scare people, while Harrison is trying to offer them hope.
Just look at the different versions of Captain America himself: Steve and Stevil.
And then compare that to Lindsey B.T. And Lindsey A.T.
Then ask yourself, South Carolinians, whose origin story can you trust?
Graham, Harrison said, cannot run on his record because he has forgotten South Carolina and become a creature of Washington’s political games.
Harrison promises that won’t happen to him. So think about it, and then go to the polls and vote for Jaime Harrison.
Photo by Black Enterprise
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