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.

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U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) speaks at breakout session "From Demonstration to Legislation: How Organizing Will Win Back Progressive Power" at the Netroots Nation annual conference for political progressives in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Christopher Aluka Berry

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) speaks during the first session at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 25, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich)

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (C) stands on stage with his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders (R), and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MN) before speaking to supporters during a campaign rally in St. Paul, Minnesota, January 26, 2016.

(REUTERS/Eric Miller)

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) is arrested by U.S. Capitol Police after blocking First Street NW in front of the U.S. Capitol with fellow supporters of immigration reform, on October 8, 2013 in Washington, DC. Last week, House Democrats introduced their own immigration reform bill.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., attends a rally with low wage federal contract workers on the steps the Department of Labor to call for the minimum wage be raised to $15 per hour, April 14, 2016.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., leaves a meeting with House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center, June 22, 2016. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke at the meeting.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congressman Keith Ellison speaks on stage during 'A More Perfect Union: Obama and The Racial Divide,' featuring Congressman Keith Ellison, Alicia Garza, Margo Jefferson, and Khalil Gibran Muhammad in conversation wiith Jelani Cobb during The New Yorker Festival 2016 at Acura at SIR Stage37 on October 9, 2016 in New York City.

(Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for The New Yorker)

Rep. Keith Ellison, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, speaks during a rally against the Republican tax bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Democratic National Chair candidate, Keith Ellison, addresses the audience as the Democratic National Committee holds an election to choose their next chairperson at their winter meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Berry
U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) (2nd R) smiles as he gets bundled for warmth by fellow Democrats, Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) (L-R), Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), as House Democrats gathered for remarks on immigration legislation on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 13, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) waits to speak during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol in opposition to the involvement of U.S. military forces in Syria March 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. U.S. members of Congress voiced their concern about 'escalating U.S. involvement in the Syrian Civil War�during the event. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 28: Tom Perez, left, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and deputy chairman Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., are interviewed in Statuary Hall before President Donald Trump addressed a joint session of Congress in the Capitol, February 28, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, speaks during the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party endorsement convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., on Sunday, June 17, 2018. The DFL will endorse a primary candidate for the seat of Representative Keith Ellison, a democrat from Minnesota, as he runs for state attorney general. Photographer: Emilie Richardson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 19: Democratic National Committee Deputy Chairman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) addresses a rally against Trump Administration education funding cuts outside the U.S. Capitol July 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. Democratic members of Congress also addressed the rally, which was organized by the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 12: U.S. Sen. Keith Ellison (D-MN) speaks during a news briefing December 12, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) spoke on the Labor Department's recently-proposed rule 'to make tips the property of employers; and the impact of the rule on restaurant workers' wages and rights.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 24: Congressman Keith Ellison attends the Lifetime Panel Discussion with Congressman Dan Kildee, 'Flint' cast, executive producer and Flint residents the CVC Congressional Auditorium on October 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Lifetime)
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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.

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