Rep. Clyburn Says Senate Primary Tainted With Bad Politics

Alvin Greene, an unemployed Army veteran, stunned South Carolina lawmakers and voters alike last week when he beat a heavily favored former legislator to capture the state’s Democratic nomination for Senate. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina, says Greene’s appearance on the ballot and surprising win is likely the product of a Republican scheme.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

Coming up, you think you have a messy house? You probably have nothing on Michael Rosenwald. The Washington Post reporter finally comes to grip with his obsession with holding onto piles and piles of stuff. He'll tell us more about it and his deeper investigation into the phenomenon known as hoarding. We'll have that conversation in just a few minutes.

But first, we want to talk more about South Carolina politics in the age of Alvin Greene. Alvin Greene, if you had not heard, is the candidate for the United States Senate in South Carolina who came from nowhere to win the right to challenge incumbent Republican Jim DeMint on behalf of South Carolina's Democrats.

And by coming from nowhere, we mean he didn't campaign, he hired no staff, and because he didn't have a job in almost a year, a lot of people have questions about where he got that $10,000 filing fee. To give a sense of his financial state, he reportedly asked one newspaper reporter if he could get paid for his post-primary interview.

To say that South Carolina's more, shall we say, established Democrats are unhappy about all this is probably the understatement of the decade. But Republicans have their own problems, too, including a race for the governor's mansion that has been nasty even by South Carolina's rough and racially tinged standards.

State Representative Nikki Haley, an up-and-comer who was embraced by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, was accused of infidelity by her rivals. And one state senator from her party referred to her as a, quote, "raghead," an apparent reference to her Indian ancestry.

We wanted to know more about the state of play in South Carolina, so in a minute, we'll hear from the president of the League of Women Voters' chapter there. But first, we've called Congressman James Clyburn. He represents South Carolina's 6th district, which includes Columbia. He's also the number three-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives in his role as House majority whip. He's on the phone with us. Welcome back, sir. Thanks for joining us once again.

Representative JAMES CLYBURN (Democrat, South Carolina; House Majority Whip): Well, thank you so much for having me back.

MARTIN: But before we get into South Carolina politics, I just wanted to ask one question - taking advantage of your House leadership post, of course - and ask you about the criticism of President Obama. He's spending some hours in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi today. And there are those who are saying he's not showing enough leadership on the Gulf - particularly the Gulf oil spill, particularly - or on the economy, or even in the Democratic Party. If I could just get your perspective on that.

Rep. CLYBURN: Well, I think that what you're hearing is not criticism, but frustrations being expressed. Everybody is frustrated with the process down there. It's been going on now, what, 56 or seven days. And this leak - or it could be called a gusher(ph) - is seen not to be able to be brought under control, and people are frustrated. Lives are being ruined. Employment situations are vanishing. The economy is probably on the brink of disaster in so many communities down there, and so people are frustrated.

I was kind interested in seeing that at least one of the governors, in the last day or so, saying that he thought that the president and BP - I think it may have been the mayor are both doing all that they can possibly do. And people are really, really frustrated. It's not so much that they're criticizing the president, but expressing frustration over the process.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about Alvin Greene. I know you're frustrated about that.

Rep. CLYBURN: Yes.

MARTIN: You've suggested that there may be some political trickery involved here. Do you have any evidence of that?

Rep. CLYBURN: Yes. I have a whole lot of evidence of it. I think that if people were to not focus so much on Alvin Greene and that race - because it has such a preposterous outcome - and take a look at what was going on in the other two federal elections. There were only two other federal elections. Not only did we see, in my race for reelection, I was challenged in the Democratic primary by a gentleman whose entire campaign consisted of Republican talking points that had been developed over the last six or seven months.

His race was being managed by the campaign manager of Joe You Lie Wilson, who, if you recall, after his outburst on the floor of the House, I moved to have him censured for having done that. And his campaign manager shows up as the campaign manager for my opponent. And then we saw, down in the 1st congressional district, an un-favorite(ph) candidate winning that race. And it's because I share counters with Joe Wilson, and I also share counters with the 1st congressional district.

So they had a campaign being run by the same guy who was running the campaign for two other Republicans, and they were not filing any reports. Nobody could tell you - could find out where the money was coming from or what is being spent because they violated every law in this campaign, found not a single disclosure, not a single contribution, not a single expenditure. Yet they spent at least $200,000 and filed all the reports after the campaign so that people could not trace what they were doing.

MARTIN: Well, okay, let's credit that it's not beyond the realm of possibility. What would be the point of it, since Senator DeMint - a controversial figure, to be sure, nationally. Obviously, a lot of Democrats really don't like him. He's kind of become a point man for the Obama opposition, in some ways. But he is very popular in South Carolina among likely voters. So what would've been the point of planting Alvin Greene. Who denies this, by the way.

Rep. CLYBURN: Well, maybe you haven't been keeping up the polling lately. Our polling told us that Jim DeMint was very vulnerable. We knew that. And I think the Republicans knew that. The headlines are one thing. When you start drilling down into the voters' attitudes, Jim DeMint was, in fact and still is very vulnerable, and we knew that, and they know that.

And, also, as one of my opponents said, if you want to stop Obama, let's defeat Jim Clyburn in this primary. So they were spending all the money trying to defeat me in the primary. And they wanted to line up and ask an American in the Democratic primary down in the 1st congressional district because they were also pushing an African-American in the Republican primary.

Look, this is nothing new. Look what they did to John McCain down there in South Carolina by the Republican Party. They're just taking all of their garbage and bringing them into the Democratic primary now, and that's what's going on here. And it's as clear as anybody can possibly see. If you just look at, it's there.

MARTIN: What do you think is going to happen now, or what should happen now? I understand that Mr. Greene has been asked to step aside by the party leadership. He says he won't. What do you think should happen now?

Rep. CLYBURN: Well, I don't know exactly what will happen, but there's going to be a 12:30 press conference today. And I think that Vic Rawl, who was the favorite candidate and everybody thought would be the nominee, is going to lay out a course of action that he plans to follow. And I think that we'll use the judiciary to try to winnow this out.

Look, this gentleman declared himself an indigent and is being charged with a felony, and he said that he could not afford a lawyer, and so one was provided for him. But then all of a sudden now, he's turned up with $10,400 to pay a filing fee. So I think that we're going to try to follow the money here and see exactly where it will lead us.

MARTIN: All right. James Clyburn is the House majority whip. That makes him the third-ranking Democrat in the congressional leadership. He represents South Carolina's 6th congressional district. And he was kind enough to join us from his home office there. Congressman, thank you so much for speaking with us. Please keep us posted.

Rep. CLYBURN: Thank you for having me.

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