South Carolina mystery candidate Alvin Greene gave his first campaign speech today. Chad Nance has inside knowledge of Greene's campaign and has intereviewed him extensively. He's got some thoughts on today's speech more substantial than: "Haw haw, whatta joke."
Today, Alvin Greene, South Carolina's Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, gave his first campaign speech at the regular monthly meeting of the NAACP in Manning, SC. Alvin is a local candidate. He is a son of Manning, SC, and Clarendon County's African-American community has begun to close ranks behind him. During the opening remark, Retired judge Willie Bethune said, "Don't tell me this isn't a bright man. Carolina quit giving dummies a degree a long time ago." To applause and "Amens," Bethune addressed the dubious obscenity charges that have been dogging Alvin since the beginning. "The law says he in innocent until proven guilty. Anyone can make an allegation."
In a recent meeting with state Democrats, Greene had rebuffed attempts to help make this first appearance—and his campaign in general—run smoothly. He was offered a speech written to promote his platform of "Jobs, Education, and Justice". He rejected it. Alvin was offered the services of an off-duty policeman to act as a "body-man" and keep the press from mauling him after the speech. He rejected that, preferring to drive himself. He was offered and rejected the services of a volunteer who would begin vetting interview requests and answering the phones. Finally, he was asked not to give any more interviews until a proper campaign organization could be pulled together. He's been following that piece of advice better than the rest. Alvin Greene has his own ideas about how he wants to present himself during campaign, but those ideas remain a mystery.
Greene moved sheepishly to the podium. He cleared his throat, then went hard at his heavily-favored opponent, Republican incumbent Jim DeMint. But he immediately became stuck on the number "One-hundred and twenty-five thousand"—the number of jobs lost America last month. He looked down as he repeated the number, adjusted his clothes. He jumped right into a rambling explanation of why a highway project planned to run from Michigan to the coast of South Carolina would bring jobs and economic prosperity to the state. The problem with including it in his political platform is that there is nothing a U.S. Senator could do to further the project. Plus, no one in federal or state government opposes the project—including Jim DeMint.
Next, Greene pointed out that SC leads the nation in high school drop outs. (In 2008, South Carolina graduated only 55.6% of her students.) He rightly pointed out that parental involvement must be a major component in improving this statistic. But he then claimed South Carolina is 49th in state educational rankings. South Carolina actually ranks in the middle—between 24th and 28th, depending on whose numbers you use. He launched into a short bit about "Justice," humorously alluding to his own obscenity case: "I knew a young man caught up in the justice system." On foreign policy, Greene said the nation had to be kept safe from "terrorists and communists." Here, he sounded more like a Tea Party candidate than the Democratic nominee for Senate.
To pundits, and political junkies, Alvin performed poorly today. But immediate reactions from the people at Manning Junior High were positive. One Republican voter told me, "I would vote for him. I always vote for Republican candidates, but I would vote for Alvin Greene after his speech today."
I phoned Alvin shortly after the speech. He asked me: "How do you think I did? I thought it was good." I told him I thought it needed more substance. "Substance?" Alvin said, his voice rising. "At least I have some ideas. My opponent has none. It was my first campaign speech. There will be more."
Chad Nance is freelance writer living in the swamps of South Carolina Low Country. He blogs at Weird Load.