South Carolina Senate Race Takes Surprising Turn

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Alvin Greene won South Carolina's Democratic Senate primary with an unmistakable margin. But the unemployed army veteran did not even wage a campaign. Barbara Zia, President of the League of Women Voters South Carolina, discusses Greene’s controversial victory and what message it is sending to South Carolina voters.


We wanted to talk more about the political culture in South Carolina, so we've called Barbara Zia. She is the president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. That's a nonpartisan political organization. Many people associate them, of course, with hosting presidential debates and debates at other levels. And, of course, they stand for good government and voter education. She's with us now from South Carolina. Thank you for joining us.

Ms. BARBARA ZIA (President, League of Women Voters of South Carolina): Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: What is your assessment of what happened here?

Ms. ZIA: Well, the league in South Carolina is very concerned about the allegations of election irregularities and disputed elections and some of the nasty campaign tactics that have been in play in the Republican gubernatorial primary race. Our concern is that these activities are going to hurt the Democratic processes in the state.

And it takes attention away from what really matters to voters like good paying jobs and quality education for their children, clean air and water. And in the end, it - I think the worse case for the League of Women Voters, which is a strong advocate of informed and engaged citizens, is that voters may be discouraged about government effectiveness and the importance of voting.

MARTIN: Now, you heard Congressman Clyburn reference a sort of a past history of nastiness and political trickery in South Carolina, certainly not limited to South Carolina, but the specific example, he said it was Senator John McCain, when he ran for president in 2000, was the subject of or the target, I should say, of a whispering campaign, suggesting that he had fathered an out-of-wedlock black child. And of course this I think most people now know he has an adopted child who is of color. And this was very disturbing to him and to a lot of other people.

But do you believe that this is sort indicative of - is there a culture of anything goes in South Carolina politics?

Ms. ZIA: Well, as you said, it goes on everywhere, unfortunately, the smear campaigns and disputed elections. But South Carolina has been unfortunate to have a recent spate of incidents. The past year has been pretty rough. I think it may come down to some political operatives who use win-at-any-cost strategies.

MARTIN: What do you think should happen now? Do you have an opinion about this? And more broadly, do you think that there are other changes that might be needed in the way campaigns are run in South Carolina that could possibly be enforced either by the parties or by the government to forestall something like this?

Ms. ZIA: Sure. We have confidence in election officials that they are going to investigate the allegations and that in the end they're going to be able to restore confidence in the integrity of our state's voting system. You know, I think, you know, behind every dark cloud there's a silver lining. Hopefully this experience in the 2010 election is going to offer an opportunity for South Carolina citizens to really examine closely how democracy is working here and how we can make it better. And then not just in South Carolina, but nationally, call attention to the need for restoring civility in our public discourse and rebuilding public trust.

MARTIN: And very briefly, Barbara, if I may ask you, is there any way in which Alvin Greene's election or success in the primaries is indicative of something positive? That really, anybody can run for office, throw his or her hat in the ring and make a go of it. Is there anything positive about it?

Ms. ZIA: Yes, you know, there he did follow state election law. He sent in his filing fee to the state Democratic Party.

MARTIN: Well...

Ms. ZIA: I think from the league's point of view, you know, we want to see...

MARTIN: I think we stumped you on that. I apologize for that. I apologize for not giving you enough time to answer. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. ZIA: It's all right.

MARTIN: Barbara Zia is the president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. That's a nonpartisan political organization that supports informed and active political participation.

Next we'll hear from Lucille O'Neal, Shaq's mom. But she says there's a lot more to her than that. We'll have you more on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michele Martin.

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