How Times Change
When I first arrived in South Carolina 30 years ago (on my first Air Force assignment), the local Republican Party was virtually non-existent. In fact, the running joke was that the Palmetto State GOP consisted of Strom Thurmond and three other guys. Senator Thurmond was guaranteed re-election for life, but no other candidate running as a Republican could win a race for dog catcher.
The tide began to turn in the 80s, as thousands of disaffected Democrats abandoned their party forever. By the 1990s, the GOP had become dominant in South Carolina, controlling both houses of the state legislature and (more often than not), the governor's mansion as well. Those trends persist today; a couple of Dims hang on in the state's congressional delegation, but they're little more than afterthoughts. And neither of those Congressmen (John Spratt and James Clyburn) entertain any serious aspirations at state-wide office.
To be sure, the Republican ascendancy in South Carolina has its dark side. When outgoing Governor Mark Sanford admitted to martial infidelity last year, the state's Lieutenant Governor, Andre Brauer, tried to run him out of Columbia on a rail. Mr. Brauer claimed that Sanford could no longer govern effectively. Of course, a Sanford resignation would have put Brauer in the governor's chair, giving him a leg up in the 2010 race for that job.
More recently, Mr. Brauer has been touting results of a polygraph test, which (in his words) "prove" that he wasn't the source of adultery rumors about the GOP front-runner, state representative Nikki Haley. Fittingly, Brauer finished dead last in Tuesday's Republican primary, with only 12% of the vote. As for Ms. Haley, she received 49% of the vote, more than double that of her nearest challenger (Congressman Gresham Barrett), her opponent in a June run-off.
But if the South Carolina GOP has its problems, state Democrats have apparently hit rock-bottom. Going into yesterday's primary, it was widely assumed that State Representative Vic Rawl would win the party's nomination for U.S. Senate, and face Republican incumbent Jim Demint in November. Rawl had campaigned widely across the state and raised almost $200,000 in an effort to secure the nomination. His only opposition was 32-year-old Alvin Greene, an unemployed veteran who lives with his parents in Manning, South Carolina. As far as anyone can tell, Mr. Greene spent no money on his race, didn't bother to campaign, and doesn't even own a cell phone or computer.
You probably know what happened Tuesday.
Greene, the "stealth" candidate, beat Rawl handily, 59-41%. But his joy was short-lived; this morning, ABC News reported that the Democratic Senatorial nominee was kicked out the Army last year, and is facing a pending felony charge for attempting to show "obscene pictures from a website" to a student at the University of South Carolina.
There's no word on when Mr. Greene will have his day in court. Meanwhile, he faces tough questions about his military career, and those criminal charges. An ABC producer described Greene as sometimes "rambling" and "incoherent" during their interview.
Just the guy to represent South Carolina Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections. I'm sure Senator Demint can't wait to debate Mr. Greene, assuming the challenger actually shows up--or isn't in jail. State Democratic Party officials say they're dumbfounded by Greene's victory. Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon says Mr. Greene's astounding win "says something about the Democratic bench" in the Palmetto State.
ADDENDUM: Greene's no-frills (read: no money) campaign reminds us of the late Monroe Schwarzlose, the elderly turkey farmer who challenged Bill Clinton for the 1980 Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Arkansas. Mr. Schwarzlose spent $4,000 on his run for office, mostly for copies of canning recipes that he distributed as campaign literature. Traveling across the state in overalls and knee boots, Schwarzlose received 30% of the vote against the future President. However, we should note that Schwarzlose (unlike Alvin Greene) was an honorably discharged veteran, and he wasn't facing felony charges during his political career.
UPDATE (8:44 pm, EDT): According to WCBD-TV (Charleston) Democratic State Party chair Carol Fowler has officially asked Mr. Greene to drop out of the race. But with no job--and no court date scheduled--why should he? Incidentally, today marked the first time that Ms. Fowler has spoken with her party's presumptive Senate nominee. Quite an introductory conversation, eh?