In yet another scene from South Carolina’s political theater of the absurd, Alvin Greene’s stunning upset victory in Tuesday’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary was followed by revelations that he faced an obscenity charge and earlier was drummed out of the Army.
Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler called on Greene to withdraw Wednesday, but he said he would not. If he remains in the race, he makes incumbent Republican Sen. Jim DeMint’s already promising re-election prospects a near certainty.
Greene, an unemployed 32-year-old who lives with his parents in Manning, was hardly visible on the campaign trail, even ignoring a stump rally in his hometown. Still, he trounced rival Democrat Vic Rawl, a former judge and state lawmaker who serves on Charleston County Council.
Greene spent no money campaigning and did not have a website, but improbably captured 59 percent of the vote and won all but four counties. Rawl campaigned across the state, raised about $250,000, sent out about 260,000 e-mails, and was left scratching his head Tuesday night as results came in.
The day after the election, Rawl canceled a fundraising event he had scheduled for today for his expected November campaign and kicked himself for not investigating his opponent’s background.
“I feel kind of silly that we didn’t check all of that, but then again, why would we?” he said. “I never met him, never saw a sign, never saw a bumper sticker.”
Greene was arrested in November and accused of showing obscene photos to Camille McCoy, a University of South Carolina freshman from Summerville who was 18 at the time.
McCoy, who is now 19, said Greene managed to get by security in her dorm and enter a common computer room there. According to court documents and McCoy, Greene sat next to her and showed her a screen of graphic pornographic images.
“He said, ‘Let’s go to your room right now,’ ” she said. “I just ran out of there.”
McCoy called her parents, who reported the incident to campus police. Greene was charged with disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity.
She later saw Greene at a bond hearing and said they learned earlier this year he was entering an intervention program for first-time offenders.
McCoy said when she learned Wednesday that Greene is on track to be the Democratic Party’s U.S. Senate candidate, “it was like a slap in the face. It was a joke to me. I cannot believe this.”
Fowler asked Green to withdraw, and if he were to do so before the State Election Commission certifies the results at 3 p.m. Friday, then Rawl could be declared the Democratic candidate.
“I want everyone to be very clear that the Democratic Party does not condone the kind of thing he is accused of,” she said. “We don’t want any of our candidates to be under any kind of shadow like that.”
Greene told The Post and Courier he won’t step aside and refused to discuss the criminal charge or details of his involuntary discharge from the Army.
“The people of South Carolina have spoken,” he said. “They chose me to be the Democratic Party nominee. I have no comment on that other stuff.”
Greene said he paid the $10,400 filing fee for the Senate race with his own money. He has not filed required campaign documents or financial disclosure forms with the Federal Election Commission because he thought he didn’t have to, having spent less than $5,000 campaigning. His filing fee was more than double that.
Fowler said Greene appeared with a $10,400 personal check, and she told him to return with a $10,400 check from a campaign account. “I asked him if somebody had given him the money, and he said it was his money,” Fowler said.
State law doesn’t prevent those charged with a crime from seeking office, and there is no standard background check.
“How could we have not known about this?” asked Charleston County Democratic Chairman George Tempel. “Who vets these people? I don’t. It’s bad enough the Democratic Party was highjacked, but I don’t know by whom.”
What also mystified Democrats across the state is how Greene managed to win without campaigning.
“Frankly, I have no idea how he won,” Fowler added. “People have been asking me that all day, and I just do not know.”
State Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Denmark, suggested Greene might have benefited from being listed first on Tuesday’s ballot, but Fowler said the party’s two relatively little known Senate candidates in 2008 polled at nearly 50-50.
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.”
If outside forces played a role in Greene’s win, they’ve covered their tracks well so far. The race didn’t seem to tilt based on any last-minute mailing, robocall or word of mouth through established Democratic networks.
“Whatever happened, it was damn stealthy,” Rawl said. S.C. New Democrats director Phil Noble called the primary “probably the single strangest election I have seen in my lifetime in South Carolina politics. I cannot begin to explain it.”
While Noble said he believes the Democrats’ enemies aren’t above causing mischief, “I have seen absolutely zero evidence that they have done anything other than this question of who paid this guy’s filing fee.”
State GOP Executive Director Joel Sawyer denied that any outside force helped Greene win. “The only force at work in that primary was the Democratic Party being completely asleep at the switch.”
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.
Greene said he looks forward to taking on DeMint.
“I worked hard and I earned it,” he said. “I won by 60 percent of the vote; that’s not a fluke, that’s not luck, that’s very decisive.”
Susan McCoy, Camille’s mother, said she didn’t vote Tuesday, had no idea Greene was running and can’t believe he was even allowed on the ballot.
“It’s not hilarious, but it is because I’m sitting here finally getting over what this dude did to my daughter and thinking he can be a candidate for the U.S. Congress,” she said. “I’m just like, absolutely, what is this countrycoming to? Somebody better wake up.”