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South Carolina head scratcher: More curiosities in election of Alvin Greene

The question of how Alvin Greene, a discharged Army soldier living with his dad, won a major US senatorial primary tests South Carolina's bounds of credulity.

By Staff writer / June 12, 2010

South Carolina Democratic candidate for US Senate, Alvin Greene, holds his campaign flyer. Greene says he is staying in the race against incumbent US Sen. Jim DeMint (R).

Mary Ann Chastain/AP



Is he a working class hero, proof that anyone can make it in politics? Or did someone put Alvin Greene up to it, paying his way to sabotage the Democratic statewide primary to take pressure off South Carolina Republican incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint?

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As calls for an investigation into Mr. Greene's surprise election widened on Saturday, more irregularities cropped up as details emerged about a US Senate race that, in essence, pitted a well-known candidate, Charleston County Council member Vic Rawl – who logged nearly 17,000 miles on the campaign trail – against a jobless guy who lives with his dad and who described his own campaign as "nothing fancy." Greene came away with 59 percent of the vote, to Rawl's 41 percent.

So far, there are far more questions than answers in the curious case of Alvin Greene, the Senate candidate with $114 in his campaign chest.

For many Democrats, Greene's unusual election victory fits into an old narrative. In 1990, a GOP operative in South Carolina put up an unemployed shrimper to run in a Republican primary, a move that the New York Times described as an attempt to "shamelessly exploit racial differences and racism in the pursuit of victory."

Greene's election could also be a testament to either the beauty of amateur politics – or the fallibility of the electorate.

Greene's spelling of his name – the "e" at the end is preferred by blacks – could have sent a message to black voters, although that didn't seem to have mattered much as Greene took 74 percent of votes in mostly white Greenwood County and only 52 percent in mostly-black Orangeburg County.

The familiar name – Al Green is of course the famous soul singer – may have played a role. Others blame the Democratic party for not doing due diligence before taking Greene's hand-scrawled filing fee check for $10,400 to enter the race. But South Carolina's lengthy ballot, where Greene was listed first alphabetically, could have been the main culprit, political scientists say.

"If there are lots of offices on the ballot, voters don't necessarily know who they are voting for," says Mark Tompkins, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina, in Columbia. "In the 1960s, John Kennedy ran for office in Massachusetts, and it turned out he wasn't that candidate. He did quite well, though."

With conspiracy theories flying, the Sherlock Holmes game has begun into Primary Election Day 2010. There are currently three teams of election experts combing the primary results in the state's 46 counties for clues. So far, they've found one unusual disparity: It turns out while he lost the poll balloting, Rawl won the absentee vote.