Chances are, you don’t know where Manning, South Carolina is. Chances are, you’ve never heard of this small southern town. I only know where it is because it was the halfway point to my grandmother’s house from my hometown. For all the hundreds of times I’ve passed the town, I’ve never been anywhere other than the gas stations and the fast food restaurants that cluster around the exit to I-95. Other than those brief pitstops, Manning remains a mystery to me.
Which is kind of how the rest of the state, if not the rest of the nation, feels about Alvin Greene, a Manning resident who has defeated opponent Vic Rawls in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, which means, at least for now, that he will face current South Carolina senator Jim DeMint in the fall. The media is shocked, not because democracy is actually working, but because none of them had even thought to do any more than a cursory Google search of Greene when he filed to run for office. The opponent is most definitely shocked because he totally overlooked this no name candidate. I’m not there in South Carolina right now, but I would imagine that the population is shocked to various degrees, with some of them appalled that such a thing could happen, and others who are pleased that the Democratic establishment has had its comeuppance.
Mr. Greene happens to be one of the one out of ten Americans who is unemployed, a fact that is the focus of a lot of press attention, as if his unemployed status is something akin to leprosy, or syphilis, or a mental illness of some sort that means he shouldn’t be regarded as a serious candidate. He also falls into a much smaller category of candidates with pending felony charges that are unlikely to be adjudicated by November, which will truly put to the test that most America of ideals, “innocent until proven guilty.”
You are wasting your time if you are watching your major news networks for any real information about Mr. Greene or the life he leads in Manning, S.C. And if you believe you will get some special insight from someone on one of the Sunday morning political shows who has decided to break with tradition and do some actual political analysis, I’ve got some guaranteed 100% accurate Diebold voting machines to sell you.
If I were you, and I was tired of watching TV anchors get their jollies by baiting Greene with questions more experienced politicians would simply shrug off, the first thing I would do is click on over to the Columbia Free Times website, where they have done an excellent job in their article The Manning-churian Candidate: Unknown Alvin Greene Wins Senate Primary of giving their readers a sense of Alvin Greene’s day-to-day surroundings.
Spencer and Tom’s barbershop on East Boyce Street downtown was buzzing with locals watching a TV that hangs from the ceiling and asking each other, “Who is Alvin Greene?” One of the barbershop owners, Spencer Tindell, kept swearing that the man lived just down the road on highway 521.
A month ago, Greene had moseyed into the shop and handed Tindell a campaign flyer copied on a sheet of printer paper. He hadn’t even brought any tape. Greene asked Tindell if he’d go down to the courthouse and fill Greene’s name in on an absentee ballot and if he’d put up the flier. Then he just moseyed on out.
The second thing I would do, once my curiosity had been sufficiently whetted by the inconsistencies in Greene’s story, would be to visit FiveThirtyEight.com, where my man Nate Silver and his gang of merry statisticians have been doing some serious number crunching of the South Carolina election results. In case you don’t know who Nate Silver is, he’s the blogger who beat the pros at predicting the state-by-state electoral outcome of the 2008 presidential election.
More telling are specific results in a few extreme cases. As I was entering the data, I couldn't help but notice that the results in three alphabetically consecutive counties--Oconee, Orangeburg and Pickens--were odd, if not counter-intuitive. At 65.1 percent, Orangeburg--site of the infamous and tragic Orangeburg massacre of 1968--features the third-highest non-white registered population of any South Carolina county (behind only Allendale and Williamsburg). Greene won 52.5 percent of all votes cast in Orangeburg for either himself or Rawl. And at first blush, that might seem like nothing unusual—until you realize that Greene did even better in Pickens (8.3 percent non-white registrants) and Oconee (8.6 percent), the two whitest counties in the state.
Chances are, you’ve probably never heard of Orangeburg, S.C. either. Orangeburg happens to be my hometown, so I have talked to more than a few of its residents in the past couple of days about what's going on. Mr. Greene is as much a mystery to most of them is as he is to most of you. The guys at FiveThirtyEight.com came up with four plausible theories, based on the data they’ve examined, to explain what might have happened.
I believe the Palmetto State’s voters reminded us all this week of one of the chief miseries of democracy—we are oftentimes represented by the least able among us.
I mean, just think about it—if you inflate Alvin Greene’s sense of self to the bursting point, teach him how to imitate a barnyard rooster strut, help him memorize a few paragraphs worth of talking points, and order him one of those “365 Ways To Hate President Obama” calendars, you get Senator Jim DeMInt.