Odd Couple: How a Republican and a Democrat became friends in South Carolina

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Story highlights

  • South Carolina is known for its sharp elbows in politics
  • But the chairmen of the state parties have struck up an unlikely friendship

Columbia, South Carolina (CNN)At first glance, it just looks like two guys enjoying a beer together at a local restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina.

But they aren't just two guys. They're the Democratic and Republican state party chairmen.
And in this state, which is better known for its bare-knuckle politics, Jaime Harrison and Matt Moore have found a way to become friends.
National candidates may hurl insults across party lines, but Harrison and Moore enjoy an unusual rapport in the world of dirty politics.
"I think some people find our friendship a little bit strange," says Moore as Harrison chuckles in agreement when the two sat down recently in the South Carolina Statehouse.
They have been friends for several years; Moore points out that few people understand what it's like to be a chairman of a political party, especially one in such an important primary state.
"It just so happens that in this case, it's the other political party," Moore acknowledges.
Their camaraderie rooted in their status as some of the youngest state party chairs -- Moore is 33 and Harrison is 40.
They also say they share similar personal stories: less than ideal upbringings. Moore says he grew up in a trailer park in Georgia and Harrison recalls being raised by a single mom in a "working-class poor" household.
"That synergy of rising up to take part of the American dream was a part of what we both shared," Harrison says.
They've carried their cross-party friendship into a class they taught together last fall at the University of South Carolina. And they've laid partisan politics aside occasionally at work, too.
In the background of historic photos of Governor Nikki Haley signing a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds, the chairmen stand shoulder-to-shoulder, looking down approvingly.
Another issue in which they find common ground on is criminal justice reform.
"Two weeks ago Matt and I visited a prison here in Columbia and it weighed on me so much the entire time," Harrison says, characterizing criminal justice reform as a human rights and national security issue.
Moore says it is one of the few areas right now in the country where there's bipartisan agreement.
"I think criminal justice reform and sentencing reform are the defining civil rights struggle of the 21st century. It's not a Republican or Democrat issue. It's a policy issue, it's an American issue. That's the kind of issues where Jaime and I are willing to tackle together," Moore says.
With the first in the South primaries coming up shortly for both parties, both men hope for competitive primaries in their states -- and their eventual nominee to become the president.
"We'll fight when necessary. I'm still as conservative as ever," Moore says.
But in the meantime they'll continue to bond over a shared loved of striped socks, the Constitution, and politics.