ATLANTA — Alvin Greene shocked the political system by winning a South Carolina Democratic primary for the US Senate. Now his campaign is in the hands of state Democrats, who’d rather see him go far, far away.
An unemployed Army veteran with a criminal charge against him, Greene beat former judge Vic Rawl 59 to 41 percent in the June 8 primary. The state Democratic Party is hearing evidence Thursday that includes reports of faulty voting machines and allegations of a put-up job as party officials decide Greene’s future as a Democratic candidate.
Yet it’s possible that party bosses will have to say that Greene simply won – and, ultimately, that the party itself may be as much to blame for not scrutinizing Greene earlier.
“Up and down the political spectrum, you find this problem of races without well-known candidates, and somebody for some bizarre reason ends up doing well,” says Mark Tompkins, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “That said, you would assume that a major party would have a well-known candidate for the US Senate, and the fact that [the South Carolina Democratic Party] didn’t is a reflection of the weakness of the party.”
Greene’s opponent, Mr. Rawl, had only a 4 percent name recognition in the statewide race, despite logging 17,000 miles on the campaign trail and paying for more than 200,000 robocalls.
On the other hand, Greene’s name is similar to the soul singer Al Green. Also, he was listed before Rawl on a long primary ballot.
“The psychology here is the ‘primacy effect,’ ” Joanne Miller, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, tells Newsweek. “When people have to make a choice from a visual list, the theory is that they start at the top, consider the first choice, and if they can think of a reason, just stop there, and not necessarily go to the second choice, the third choice, and so forth.”
Rep. James Clyburn (D) of South Carolina has alleged that political operatives put Greene up for the candidacy and helped him pay the $10,400 filing fee. Although Greene has claimed to the state that he’s indigent, the 30-something rookie politician says he saved his Army salary for two years to pay for the fee.
Reporters who have interviewed Greene on the phone and at his grandfather’s old farm outside Myrtle Beach, where he lives with his father, say Greene tends to repeat a series of loose talking points around jobs, education, and justice but often stumbles in conversation.
Greene says he’s fighting a criminal charge having to do with an incident at the University of South Carolina where police say he allegedly showed a female student pornography in a public place – an unresolved situation that could affect his candidacy under state law. Greene, who has a political science degree, has vowed to stay in the race, even despite other allegations that he was discharged from the Army and Air Force for failing to understand basic concepts.
“What about everyone else’s mental state?” he asks a Time reporter. “It seems like things don’t apply to me. I’m the nominee, and 60 percent isn’t 60 percent anymore.”
The party could yank the lifelong Democrat’s affiliation with the party at Thursday’s hearing. Even if it doesn’t, Carol Fowler, the Democratic Party head in the state, has said the party won’t financially back Greene, who trails incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint (R) by a country mile in the polls.
“If he does not withdraw and the executive hearing today does not overturn the election or call for a new election, then he will be the Democratic nominee on the ballot,” Ms. Fowler told the website South Carolina Now. “He will have that ‘D’ by his name, and that is enough to get him some votes for people who aren’t paying attention.”