DNC race: Jaime Harrison drops out, endorses Tom Perez for chair

ATLANTA - Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, dropped out of the race for Democratic National Committee chairman to endorse front-runner Tom Perez Thursday, potentially putting victory within the former labor secretary's reach.

Harrison announced his move on MSNBC and in an email to DNC members.

"Tom and I have dedicated our careers to helping people through public service," Harrison said in the email. "With so much at stake, our next Chair will lead the fight of a generation. We must all fight side by side. I'm standing by Tom Perez's side, and I hope you will join me in doing the same."

Harrison was said to have had the third largest number of votes committed to him in a crowded field of eight candidates, and he could bring as many as 20 votes into Perez' column, according to a source familiar with the situation.

That might be enough to put Perez over the top on the first round of voting Saturday in his struggle against his closest rival, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison.

Related: DNC Race: How the Democratic Party Picks Its New Leader

The DNC has 447 members and a simple majority of them is needed to win. Perez and Ellison were thought to be roughly evenly matched, so neither had been expected to win in the first round of voting.

"Every person who knows Jaime Harrison will say he is one of the smartest, most dedicated, and genuine leaders we know," Perez said in a statement. "If elected chair, I will work with Jaime and others who are running for chair to bring our party together because it will take every one of us to unite a party that is suffering from a crisis of confidence and relevance. I hope you will join Jaime and I as we stand united to make the Democratic Party the strongest it has ever been."

Rep. Keith Ellison meets supporters after a town hall meeting at the Church of the New Covenant-Baptist on Dec. 22, 2016 in Detroit. Sarah Rice / Getty Images, file

Last week, Ellison picked up the endorsement of another former candidate, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, who also leads the association of state party chairs.

Endorsement deals between candidates are common in internal party races like this one, and it's possible more candidates will exit before voting begins Saturday morning.

In his email to DNC members, Harrison, a former top congressional aide, said he didn't see a way him to win.

"In a former job, I whipped votes for House Democrats. I know what a path to victory looks like. Despite strong performances at the debate and DNC regional forums, the votes are simply not there for me to secure victory on Saturday," he said.

Harrison, a charismatic young chairman from a red state, was in a battle for third place with South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttiegieg. Both candidates' paths to victory depended on a deadlock between Perez and Ellison, which might then lead DNC members to rally behind an alternative.

Harrison had a larger constituency inside the DNC, but Buttiegieg built a national following.

On Wednesday, former DNC Chairman Howard Dean became the fifth former party chair to endorse Buttiegig, after saying he was deciding between Harrison and Buttiegieg.

"Jaime and I are very very close. I've known him since he was in his twenties," Dean said on a conference call with reporters. "We had more conversations than I had probably with any other candidate."

"I came to the concussions that Pete was the best chance for an outside-the-beltway candidate to win," Dean continued.

Perez said he and Harrison have grown close during the race and before. The former labor secretary campaigned for Democrats in South Carolina last year and participated in an interview with Harrison.

Harrison took part in a televised debate between the candidates on CNN Wednesday night, earning boisterous applause from Democrats gathered to watch a hotel bar.

"I will be probably the only chair that has been on food stamps; the only chair that has lost their home, not once, but twice; the only chair that knows what the hardship that working people have to go through in this country," Harrison said during his closing remarks.