How Did Alvin Greene Win In South Carolina?

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Perhaps the strangest upset in Tuesday's primaries is the case of Alvin Greene of South Carolina. Greene beat out former legislator Vic Rawl to become the state's Democratic Senate candidate. And Greene did it without advertisements, a website or even yard signs. Since his win, the state's Democratic Party chairman has called for him to step down after it was revealed that he faces felony obscenity charges. And there are allegations that Greene is a GOP plant. Melissa Block speaks with Dick Harpootlian, the former chair of South Carolina's Democratic Party, about Greene and South Carolina politics.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Lots of questions are being raised in South Carolina after a bizarre turn in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Alvin Greene came from out of the blue to win that primary. He's an unemployed veteran who didn't have a website or buy a single campaign sign.

After he won, it emerged that he was arrested in November and faces a felony charge of showing a pornographic website to a college student at a computer lab. And Greene has acknowledged that he was involuntarily, though honorably, discharged both from the Air Force and the Army.

The state Democratic Party has asked Greene to quit the race. He has refused. Now joining us to try to explain what happened is Richard Harpootlian, former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, now a lawyer in private practice. Welcome to the program.

Mr. RICHARD HARPOOTLIAN (Former Chair, South Carolina Democratic Party): Thank you.

BLOCK: Let's explain here. The unemployed vet who won, Alvin Greene, was running against Vic Rawl, former state legislator, former judge, he had a lot of cash. Alvin Greene gets 60 percent of the vote. This is a guy who had no campaign, was a complete unknown. How did he do it?

Mr. HARPOOTLIAN: Well, I think it's a pretty simple explanation. G comes before R. Neither one of these guys was known. If you're going down the ballot, and you see two people, and you don't know either one, you know, you either don't vote in the race, or you go alphabetically. That's the only explanation I can come up with.

BLOCK: Do you believe that there is also something more nefarious going on here? The South Carolina congressman, James Clyburn, has said he thinks shenanigans were at play, that Greene was somebody's plant. He said it just doesn't add up that an unemployed guy paid $10,000, the registration fee, to run for the U.S. Senate.

Mr. HARPOOTLIAN: Well, I mean, we've had this happen before. The most graphic example, when I was the district attorney in 1992, I prosecuted a Republican operative who used campaign money from his sister's campaign for lieutenant governor to pay the filing fee for an unemployed African-American shrimp fisherman out on bond for selling cocaine, to run against Arthur Ravenel, the congressman in Charleston. The idea that if Ravenel had an African-American run against him in a Republican primary down there, it would increase the turnout in that area, which would help this guy's sister, who was from down there.

Of course, it didn't. It was a stupid thing to do. I prosecuted her brother and convicted him.

BLOCK: Well, that happened in the past. Is there any sign that that has happened this time around?

Mr. HARPOOTLIAN: Well, I mean, we got some tell-tale signs here that raise questions. One is this guy is out on bond. I've learned today that he has been appointed a public defender, which means back in November, when he was arrested, he filled out an affidavit of indigency, saying I don't have any money. I can't afford a lawyer. Yet in March, he comes up with $10,400 to file for the United States Senate.

I mean, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong there. I'm just saying that raises a question. And my sources indicate to me that the DA is going to have this man brought into court and find out if he can afford $10,000 to file for office, why can't he find $10,000 to hire a lawyer rather than relying on the taxpayers to provide one?

BLOCK: Can we review some recent political history in South Carolina? You've got Governor Mark Sanford, who of course hiked the Appalachian Trail all the way down to Argentina.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: You just had the woman who is running to replace him, Nikki Haley, being accused of infidelity and disparaged as a rag-head in her campaign. What's in the water down there in South Carolina?

Mr. HARPOOTLIAN: And then, of course, we have a guy who apparently is accused of showing obscene matter to young people. I mean, I guess one of the things you say is he probably fits in with the political class down here with that charge.

You know, and to give you the full picture, the state treasurer -Republican state treasurer a few years ago was convicted of distributing cocaine, went to jail. The state Republican commissioner of Agriculture was convicted of taking bribes on cockfights, and went to jail.

So, I mean, it's like a bad soap opera. It's funny in some ways but very sad because all of this distracts from the realization and the reality that we face in South Carolina every day, which is we're 50th in education, we're 50th in every measure of health care, we're 50th in quality of life. And that's not going to change until our political leadership changes, and with this kind of frivolity and shenanigans, it never will.

BLOCK: Well, Richard Harpootlian, it's good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. HARPOOTLIAN: Take care. Sure, bye-bye.

BLOCK: Richard Harpootlian is former chair of South Carolina's Democratic Party.

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