South Carolina's Swampy Politics

[ Posted Thursday, June 10th, 2010 – 16:48 UTC ]

Many areas of the country take perverse pride in being "the worst" when it comes to politics, in much the same way most people take perverse pride in the fact that their local drivers are, quite obviously, the worst in the entire country. Perhaps it's just human nature. But in some places, the politics is noticeably more hardball than in others, even to outsiders. Which brings us to South Carolina.

South Carolinians are notorious for "bringing a gun to a knife fight" in the political arena. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss certainly proved this a few years back, with the disgusting advertisement he ran against Max Cleland during his campaign (the less said about this ad the better). But this year may go down as one of the strangest in South Carolina's checkered political history (which includes being the first state to commit treason against the federal government, in case anyone's forgotten).

On the Republican side, Nikki Haley beat out a crowded field this Tuesday in the governor's race. Her campaign fought off two separate charges of sexual affairs, which is about par for the course in South Carolina politics these days (see: current Governor Mark Sanford, Appalachian Trail). But the campaign also notoriously waded into the swamp of racism, when one of her fellow Republicans charmingly called her a "raghead" (she was born a Sikh, and her family was originally from India). The direct quote (the first bit is a jab at President Obama, just to be clear):

"We got a raghead in Washington; we don't need one in South Carolina. She's a raghead that's ashamed of her religion trying to hide it behind being Methodist for political reasons."

Nothing like that good old-fashioned Southern hospitality, eh? In the face of this muck, Haley won on Tuesday anyway. But since she didn't win over half the total vote, she's heading to a runoff against a Republican who just released an ad describing himself as a "Christian family man who won't embarrass us." Subtle, eh? Haley converted to being a Methodist, but I guess her opponent is going for painting her as much of an "other" as he possibly can, without actually using blatant slurs to get his point across. The message couldn't be clearer: Haley's religious affiliation should be suspect (as Obama's is among a certain portion of the Right), and she's a loose woman who will follow in Governor Sanford's mythical hiking boots.

But, astonishingly, the Republican situation is fast becoming the sleazy sideshow to the even-more-bizarre main event over on the Democratic side. Alvin Greene, a man who is unemployed and living with his father, just won the Democratic nomination for the Senate race against Jim DeMint, in what appears (on the surface) to be a real Horatio-Alger-esque pulled-up-the-bootstraps story. Unfortunately, nobody looked below this surface when they voted. Maybe because his name was first on the ballot, Greene just received 59 percent of the vote in the primary -- beating out a well-qualified candidate (Vic Rawl, a former judge and state legislator).

The day after the election, somebody discovered that Greene had been arrested for allegedly showing a student some pornography and suggesting they go up to her dorm room, which appears to be a felony in South Carolina. From the arrest warrant issued for Greene: is believed that the defendant did commit the crime of Disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity because the defendant did intentionally show obscene photographs from a website to the victim... without her consent and making statements of going to the victim's room.

Ominously (for Greene's political future, at least), this is followed by the following:

This interaction was captured on video surveillance.

But even if Greene beats the rap (he has not appeared in court yet, so the entire crime is only "alleged" at this point), other questions have been raised about his miracle candidacy -- which involved no campaigning by Greene that anyone can remember, no campaign signs, no campaign website, no campaign speeches, and no campaign appearances. The only activity Greene apparently took to gain the nomination was to pay the $10,400 filing fee, at least that anyone in the Palmetto State (including Greene himself) can cite. Being that Greene is unemployed, one (actually, more than one) wonders where this ten grand appeared from. Especially after you hear that Greene himself says he's only got $114 in his checking account, and that the only check he's ever written was to pay for the filing fee.

The Democratic Party is incensed over Greene's primary victory. They've already called on Greene to quit the race. House Majority Whip James Clyburn has called for an investigation into where the filing fee came from. At first this sounds a little paranoid, until you read this snippet from the Columbia Free Times (via the "44" blog in the Washington Post):

In the early '90s, a Republican strategist was prosecuted and forced to pay a fine when he was found to have coaxed an unemployed black fisherman into running in a primary race to increase white turnout at the polls in a Lowcountry congressional race. The political operative paid the man's filing fee.

Clyburn doesn't sound nearly as farfetched, after reading that, does he? So far, Republican Senator Jim DeMint (Greene's opponent in November) has denied that Greene is a Republican "plant," as has Greene himself. But this hasn't stopped the ire directed at Greene from other Democrats. The Charleston Post and Courier has the story this time:

State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, who lost his gubernatorial bid Tuesday, said race could have played a role. The Democratic primary electorate is majority black, as is Greene, but not Rawl. "Vic Rawl had money, but he didn't have enough. He wasn't able to identify himself with black voters," Ford said. "No white folks have an 'e' on the end of Green. The blacks after they left the plantation couldn't spell, and they threw an 'e' on the end." ...

Rawl's campaign manager, Walter Ludwig, said something more than racial politics was at work. "It wasn't just a lot of people deciding to vote for black folks, or Robert Ford would be on the ballot (in the November governor's race)," he said.

Ford, for the record, is also an African-American.

But for whatever farfetched reason you choose to believe, the fact remains that Greene is now the Democratic candidate, much as the rest of the Democratic Party would love to disown him. Now, this is a very "red" state we're talking about, so it's not clear whether Democrats would have even had any sort of realistic chance at winning DeMint's seat if South Carolinian voters had selected anyone else as their candidate.

But still, the race will serve as a warning to Democrats everywhere (and pundits, for that matter) -- while there are several amusing Republican candidates in races across the country (Tea Partiers and others), Republican voters aren't the only ones who occasionally choose loose cannons to be their standard-bearers.

The notable thing is that, in South Carolina, we're in for a rollercoaster ride in not just one race, but two in the same year. Because on both sides of the political divide in the Palmetto State, the political waters are already murky, and they're about to get downright swampy.


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


8 Comments on “South Carolina's Swampy Politics”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    It seems to me that the GOP being such a shoo-in in South Carolina would argue against the "Plant" theory...

    Unless, of course, it's a DEMOCRAT who planted this candidate in hopes of tarring the GOP candidate in an effort to swing the election.

    Like that Dem activist who trashed and vandalized a Dem office in an effort to blame the GOP for the crime..

    Once again, I am amazed that there are people who still think that Democrats are any better or any worse than Republicans.. :D


  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Are you suggesting that there are no ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans?

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Are you suggesting that there are no ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans?


    I am saying that their ideological differences make NO difference because, in the end, all they care about is furthering their own personal wealth and prestige...

    While a Democrat may SAY "black" and a Republican may SAY "white" they both use the same tactics to simply strive for the same thing...



  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I see.

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    I see.

    .....said the blind man as he picked up the hammer and saw. :D

    Sorry, couldn't resist.. :D


  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    or ...

    I see, said the blind man to the deaf man.

    One of my personal favourties.

    I couldn't resist, either - I guess I'm still in a bit of a mood. :)

  7. [7] 
    dee wrote:

    Chambliss and Cleland were competing in Georgia, not South Carolina. Sleazy wherever it was.

  8. [8] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    dee -

    You're right, I neglected to fact-check and did that from memory. But I blew it, sorry.

    Mea culpa.

    And welcome to the site!


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