In South Carolina, Greene is mystery man despite winning Democratic Senate nod

"The people of South Carolina have spoken," says Alvin Greene, who seems unfazed by the controversy. (Mary Ann Chastain - AP)
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010

MANNING, S.C. -- Alvin M. Greene never gave a speech during his campaign to become this state's Democratic nominee for Senate. He didn't start a Web site or hire consultants or plant lawn signs. There's only $114 in his campaign bank account, he says, and the only check he ever wrote from it was to cover his filing fee.

Indeed, in a three-hour interview, the unemployed military veteran could not name a single specific thing he'd done to campaign. Yet more than 100,000 South Carolinians voted for him on Tuesday, handing him nearly 60 percent of the vote and a resounding victory over Vic Rawl, a former judge who has served four terms in the state legislature.

"I'm the Democratic Party nominee," Greene says in the interview at his father's home on a lonely stretch of rural highway in central South Carolina. "The people have spoken. The people of South Carolina have spoken. The people of South Carolina have spoken. We have to be pro-South Carolina. The people of South Carolina have spoken. We have to be pro-South Carolina."

Things have gotten even stranger since Greene's win. First, the Associated Press reported that he faces felony obscenity charges for allegedly showing pornography to a University of South Carolina student last November. Greene says he's not guilty. Then the state's Democratic Party chairman called on him to withdraw from the general election. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) -- who has questioned whether Republicans may have planted Greene in the race -- is calling for federal and state investigations. A spokesman for Republican Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) called that notion "ridiculous," and Greene dismisses suggestions that he is anyone's pawn.

The whys of Greene's victory are as mysterious and baffling as his mysterious and baffling candidacy. Some explain it away as a fluke attributable to his name coming before his opponent's alphabetically. There's no way to know whether large numbers of Republicans crossed over to vote for the weaker of the Democrats, because voters don't register by party in South Carolina's open primary system.

The pinballing controversies barely faze Greene. He says he has no intention to withdraw and is challenging DeMint to a September debate "on a major network."

Greene lives with his ailing 81-year-old father, James Greene, on the outskirts of Manning, a crossroads town of 4,000 ringed by truck stops, motels and fast-food restaurants. He has no cellphone and no computer, except the one at the public library.

"I check my e-mail, like, it varies, maybe -- I'm more, I mean -- two or three times a week," he says. "I prefer the telephone. I'm a little old-fashioned. I prefer the telephone. That's the easiest."

Greene, a solidly built 32-year-old with a close-shaved head, sighs heavily as he speaks, pausing often during meandering monologues. Wearing a green T-shirt from a 1993 family reunion, he taps his fingers, alternating between staring at the floor and covering his face with both hands.

He sits on a folding metal chair at a patio table set on the linoleum floor of his father's wood-paneled living room. Above him, a ceiling fan with a bare bulb hangs motionless in the heat. Piles of magazines and mail clutter a desk. The house is dark except for a lone, dim lamp and the glow of the muted television. His father -- who says he's a kidney dialysis patient still recovering from open-heart surgery four years ago -- lies on the couch, a step away from his son, occasionally moaning in pain or interrupting Greene to say he's veered off subject.

The University of South Carolina confirms that Greene graduated in 2000 with a degree in political science. The Pentagon confirms that he served in the Army, and in the Army and Air Force national guards. Although Greene has not boasted of winning awards, the Pentagon says he was granted the Air Force Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Korean Defense Service Medal.

Where it gets hazy is Greene's discharge from the Army in August 2009, six months before the end of his three-year commitment, according to the Pentagon. The Pentagon does not confirm whether service members are discharged honorably or dishonorably. Greene says he "was honorably discharged from the Army, but it was involuntary. Things weren't working out. . . . Same thing happened in the Air Force. It's a long story in both services."

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