MANNING, S.C. -- For his first public speech, Alvin Greene
didn't travel very far. He didn't have to. Everyone came to his hometown
The surprise South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate spoke to the Manning branch of the NAACP's third-Sunday-of-the-month meeting yesterday, and attendance was good. The crowd -- friends, media and curious South Carolina voters -- filled the more than 300 chairs set up in Manning Junior High School, with spillover in the bleachers, as Greene laid out his plans to beat the odds and Republican Sen. Jim DeMint
"South Carolina and America cannot afford six more years of my opponent," Greene said of DeMint.
Greene said his plan is "about getting South Carolina and America back to work" and "moving South Carolina and America forward." He repeated that particular message three times in his brief prepared speech. Greene, dressed in a dark suit and green tie, was a man of few words and many pauses, and seemed nervous in front of the crowd and television cameras. Though he was never comfortable sitting onstage in the middle of NAACP and elected officials and guests or when standing to read his speech, Greene seemed startled and pleased each time the audience encouraged him with applause.
The loudest came when he urged parents -- "especially parents of underperforming students" -- to take a more active role their children's education. He talked about the state's low achievement ranking and high dropout rates.
To relieve S.C. unemployment and bolster tourism, Greene suggested picking up transportation and infrastructure projects that were put on hold after 9/11. He proposed expanding the water and sewer systems into rural communities and implementing alternative forms of energy to "create green jobs and save America's money."
In his one foray into foreign policy, Greene said America needs to "reclaim our country from the terrorists and the communists," and then asked everyone to check out his new website
. During his under-the-radar campaign, Greene did not have a site and did not make appearances.
Though he stayed for the NAACP program that started with music and ended with a prayer, Greene quickly left when it was over without taking questions from the crowd or the media.
Greene, 32, lives with his father, James Greene Sr., in this Clarendon County town of about 3,900, where many either know him or his family. The principal of Manning Junior High, 60-year-old Jerry Coker, taught Greene in fourth and fifth grades, when Greene's father was PTA president. Coker -- who sat near the front on Sunday -- described Greene as a "capable" student. "He did what he was supposed to do," Coker told me. "He stayed out of trouble." Coker, an Independent, voted for his former student in the June 8 primary.
"He's an average person," Coker said of Greene. "In politics, we need more of our people connected with the average person."
To Felipe Farley, a campaign adviser who wore a green "Greene Senate" T-shirt, his candidate is anything but average. The 46-year-old lawyer from Simpsonville, S.C., said he was inspired by Greene's win and started working for him a few weeks ago. He hasn't had much advice for Greene yet. That he's gotten as far as he has is a testament to his own "good judgment," Farley said.
Whether it's judgment or circumstance, Greene's story has been one of the most surprising this election season, even in a state that has had more than its share of political oddities and revelations. The unemployed military veteran, who has a political science degree from the University of South Carolina, has survived a challenge
to his primary win by the man he beat handily, Charleston's Vic Rawl, a former state legislator and judge.
The State Law Enforcement Division has cleared Greene
of any wrongdoing on questions of how he got his $10,440 election filing fee, money Greene said came from savings. He still faces a felony obscenity charge
of showing Internet pornographic images to a University of South Carolina student. But as Greene keeps mum, Willie Bethune, who introduced him on Sunday, said, "He has not been found guilty of anything, so the law says he's innocent."
After a flurry of uncommunicative television exchanges following his primary win, and a story that he planned to create jobs by producing Alvin Greene action figures
, the Democratic nominee's speech in Manning began a more conventional approach to running for office.
NAACP member Brittany Prince, 19, a pharmacy student at the University of South Carolina, didn't vote for Greene in the primary. She said she wished he had been more specific in his education proposals on Sunday, but she's willing to keep listening.
Clarendon Council member Benton Blakely, a Democrat, did vote for Greene. ("I didn't like the other guy," he said.) Blakely said after the speech that Greene "needs a lot of work presenting," but said he knows how difficult it is speaking to a roomful of people. Blakely, who took a carpentry class with Greene's dad years ago, said he's "so tired of our parties fighting all the time," he's open to Greene's candidacy. He also admires Greene's achievement, "to get in the position he's in, without doing a whole lot. If I can see how he did it, I might run."
Manning NAACP President Robert Fleming said of Greene's first public speech: "He did OK; we all have to start somewhere."
Fleming, whose mother attended college with Greene's mother and who went to school with Greene's older brother, invited his news-making guest "to merely tell not only the members of our branch but also the citizens of Manning, Clarendon County and the state of South Carolina, 'Why do you want to run?' " (Greene also faces Green Party candidate Tom Clements in November.)
Fleming, who likes to quote Scripture, compares Greene's story to "David versus Goliath, placed before the Philistines because of his heart," Fleming said. "Dreams do come true. He got in it to win it and did what was up to this time unheard of, came from literally nowhere to win."
One thing Fleming wanted to make clear, though: The NAACP is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. An invitation has been extended to Sen. Jim DeMint to speak at a future third-Sunday-of-the-month gathering.