House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) theorized that an operative
ran unemployed Army veteran Alvin Greene’s (D) South Carolina Senate
campaign to create a “mess.”
Greene managed to win the June 8 Democratic primary even though he didn’t actively campaign.
Clyburn maintains that Greene is being backed by outside interests and their motivation is simple. “To mess with the system,” he told the Ballot Box. “What was the motivation with Benjamin Hunt?”
In 1990, then 28-year-old Hunt was recruited by Republican operative Rod Shealy to run against Rep. Arthur Ravenel Jr. (R-S.C.). Hunt, like Greene, was unemployed and under a legal cloud, having been indicted for selling drugs.
But a senior South Carolina Republican said that Shealy’s support for Hunt’s candidacy was, in fact, “diabolically complicated.”
Shealy, an acolyte of famed dirty trickster Lee Atwater, paid Hunt $500 directly and covered his $2,414 filing fee. He was later charged with violating campaign finance rules because at the time it wasn’t illegal to pay someone to run for office in South Carolina. It's now a crime that carries a one-year prison sentence.
During his 1992 trial, it emerged that Shealy was trying to help his sister, state Sen. Sherry Martschink (R), in her bid for the GOP lieutenant governor’s nomination.
That year a veteran black state senator, Theo Mitchell, was making a bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nod. Later in the primary season Ernie Passailaigue, a white Democratic state senator, entered the race against Mitchell.
Shealy theorized, according to reports, that this would lead many white voters who didn’t want Mitchell to win to vote in the Democratic rather than Republican primary, which is permitted under state law. Shealy worried that support for white Republican candidates, such as his sister, would drop off as a result.
Shealy didn’t just pay Hunt’s filing fee — he also distributed a mailer that featured a picture of Hunt next to a picture of Ravenel with a caption stating it was conceivable that Hunt could have several thousand supporters waiting to turn out despite running a quiet campaign.
The tactic failed. Shealy’s sister ended up losing the primary, and Mitchell won the Democratic gubernatorial nod, although he lost to incumbent Gov. Carroll Campbell (R).
After the plot was unraveled, it became clear what Shealy was trying to do.
It’s not clear, however, what anyone in South Carolina would gain from putting Greene up to run for Senate, strategists said. One theory is that it was done to motivate Vic Rawl, the other Democrat running, to campaign harder. But Greene never developed a large enough profile to create a sense of competition.
Moreover, if someone was actually trying to get him elected to face Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the operative didn’t spend any money to ensure that would happen. Greene hasn’t had to file a Federal Election Commission report because he hasn’t raised or spent more than $5,000 on his campaign, according to FEC officials.
Meanwhile, efforts to draft a candidate to run in place of Greene have failed. Former House candidate Linda Ketner (D) announced Monday she won’t launch an independent bid for Senate this cycle.
—Updated at 10:24 a.m. on July 6