Why Alvin Greene Won the Senate Nomination in South Carolina

Like everybody else, I don‘t know much about Alvin Greene.  Nor do I have any theories about what motivated him to run in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat in South Carolina.  What intrigues me is how he got over 100,000 votes and won the nomination.

According to news reports, he ran without advertising, without giving any speeches, stating any positions, hiring any staff, or seeking contributions. Some traditional politicians immediately suspected he was put up to it by other politicians of a different stripe, but, apparently, he paid the $10,440 to register his candidacy out of his own pocket.  No one gave him the cash, pushed him or even offered advice.  That sounds plausible.  I doubt any traditional politician would have thought such a candidacy was at all viable, the gesture was so simple and naïve, and the outcome so far fetched.

It’s tempting to think that he won because his candidacy was the closest voters could come to casting their ballot for “None of the Above.”  But actually his refusal to run a “normal” campaign was more eloquent than that.  Running without any of the traditional paraphernalia implied a rejection of politics as we have come to know it.  His lack of a “campaign” obviously showed that he owed nobody anything, had no prior commitments, was grinding no ideological ax.  Interviewed just after his election, he said he is interested in “sticking to the issues that are important — jobs, education, justice — and conveying why he was the best candidate.”  He probably really meant exactly what he said.  (See, “Who is Alvin Greene, State Asks After Vote.”)

Frank Rich, writing in this Sunday’s New York Times, thought he might be this year’s most “real” candidate, with a resume far more “authentic” than most of those running against Washington insiders.  “He really is who he said he is — a genuine nobody with no apparent political views.”  Rich means, I think, a “political nobody,” someone without a reputation, without standing, without a track record. (See “Facebook Politicians Are Not Your Friends.”)

Many in South Carolina were embarrassed by Alvin Greene’s success, seeing it as the latest in a long line of scandals that have plagued the state.  But maybe it actually was a sign of hope.  People did go the polls and they did vote for someone who set himself apart from the others.  They believed there was an alternative to business as usual.

What we may not know we know is that people still hope that a democratic process exists that has not been hijacked by special interests.  A “nobody” stands a chance of being honest – and, maybe, even being elected.