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In SC Senate Race, Greene Is Good For Green Party

Green Party SC Senate Candidate speaks to the Rock Hill NAACP.

The unlikely candidacy of Alvin Greene for Senate in South Carolina has left Democrats alternately scratching their heads and cringing with embarrassment. Greene has also opened a rare window of opportunity for another party that doesn't often get much visibility in South Carolina - the Green Party. The South Carolina Democratic Party has written off any hope of winning the U.S. Senate seat this year. "There is no strong candidate running against Senator DeMint," admits SC Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler. "My real hope for the Senate race is that it won't distract people's attention away from the races where democrats have a real opportunity." To minimize distraction, the party has removed any mention of Democratic nominee Alvin Greene from its website and election material, leaving voters like Thi Le in a bind. She runs a Vietnamese cafe in downtown Rock Hill where photos of her mugging with Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are on prominent display. She catered for the Democrats when they came to Rock Hill in 2008 and served them Vietnamese "soul food" - fragrant soups and noodle dishes. Le voted for the Democrats, too. But she's been stumped on this year's U.S. Senate race. Alvin Greene isn't qualified, she says. And voting for Republican Jim DeMint is simply not an option. So, like a lot of Democrats, Le was planning to just leave the Senate race blank on her ballot. Then she heard about another candidate named Tom Clements. "He was endorsed by many strong concerned citizens in Rock Hill, so I think I can trust my friend's opinion," says Le. Tom Clements say some people have said he's "the least worst of options." "And that may well be the case," he adds, with a laugh. Clements is candid. But he's committed, too. With only about $20,000 in his campaign fund, Clements is relying on word-of -mouth and shoe leather. If there's a meet-the-candidates event happening in any corner of South Carolina, he's probably there, which is more than can be said for his Democratic or Republican opponent. And that's precisely why Clements - who used to be a Democrat - accepted the Green Party's invitation to run for Senate. "Because if I were not in the race, there wouldn't be anybody raising the issues or challenging DeMint," says Clements. "DeMint is not here raising the issues of importance to South Carolina and Mr. Greene hasn't really mounted a campaign." Neither Greene nor DeMint showed up for an event of the NAACP in Rock Hill last week. That gave Clements more time to raise the issues he cares about: "I'm for protecting Social Security," he told the crowd. "I'm gonna work very hard to fight for jobs in South Carolina and protect the environment here and tackle the national debt. But I encourage you to go to tomclementsforsenate.com and check me out, thank you very much." Clements has specific proposals for each of those items, but environmental issues are is strong suit. He's built a career as a nuclear watchdog and currently works for a group called Friends of the Earth. In short, he's just the kind of candidate you'd expect from the Green Party. Winthrop political scientist Scott Huffmon says the Senate race is an unusual chance for the Green Party to get the attention of Democrats like the fifty or so in attendance at this Rock Hill NAACP event. Clements isn't likely to win, but "it does give him the opportunity to make a better showing as a Green candidate than probably any other Green candidate in the state may have done," says Huffmon. "And that, in the long run, will improve their brand." Last week, liberal magazine "The Nation" featured Clements as a "great progressive" and a chance for "savvy Democrats" to avoid further embarrassment in the Senate race. The South Carolina Democratic Party won't endorse - or fund - Clements because its rules strictly forbid that. But the Aiken County Democratic Party has a link to Clements' campaign on its website. And at least one council of the South Carolina AFL-CIO has strayed from its typically Democratic candidate endorsements to back Clements. More than anything, Democratic voters just seem relieved to discover Tom Clements. Jose Brito had a couple of Clements' yard signs tucked under his arm and a smile on his face leaving the Rock Hill event. It was the first he'd heard about any other option to Greene or DeMint in the Senate race. "I'm so happy to find the right person," said Brito of Tom Clements. No matter that he's a Green Party candidate. "I don't care about party," said Brito. "I care about candidate." Particularly when he has no interest in his own party's candidate. At least two write-in candidates are also hoping for votes in South Carolina's U.S. Senate race: Sumter attorney Mazie Ferguson and a Greenville public school teacher named Greg Snoad.