Is Alvin Greene the Real Joe the Plumber?

Illustration for article titled Is Alvin Greene the Real Joe the Plumber?

While everyone else was paying attention to Nikki Haley and Meg Whitman in Tuesday's primaries, an African American named Alvin Greene ran over former four-term state lawmaker Vic Rawl to win South Carolina's Democratic Senate primary. An unemployed 32-year-old veteran who paid $10,400 to register as a candidate and then bought not even a single campaign sign, Greene stunned the pundits with his victory, and in last 20 hours, he's become a media research project. On Wednesday, the South Carolina Democratic Party formally asked Greene to withdraw his candidacy. If Greene stays in the race, he will face Republican Sen. Jim DeMint in November.


Though he has recently stopped answering his phone—probably in light of the revelation that he's being accused of sexually harassing a female college student—The Root spoke with Greene about his campaign. He refused to comment on the harassment charges, but was otherwise forthcoming.

The Root: Hi, Alvin. Thanks for speaking with me. You almost literally came out of nowhere in last night's victory. What's your background?

Alvin Greene: I was born in Florence, S.C., but I grew up in Manning, S.C., where I live now. I graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2000. And I'm an Air Force and Army veteran, nine months out of the United States Army.

TR: What did you study in college?

AG: Political science.

TR: And what was your specialization in the military?

AG: What was my what?

TR: Did you have a specialization in the Army?

AG: Oh, intelligence. Military intelligence. But my campaign is about getting back to work and getting our priorities in order. There are more unemployed now than any other time in the state's history.

TR: What have you been doing since leaving the Army?

AG: I'm currently one of the many unemployed. Did you know that we have more unemployed now than any other time in South Carolina's history? So my campaign slogan is, you know, let's get South Carolina back to work. And my three issues are jobs, education and justice.


TR: Have you been employed at all since leaving the military?

AG: No, I haven't. But yes, and another thing, we spend two times more on inmates than students. So, yes.


TR: As an unemployed person, what made you decide to invest thousands of dollars of your own money into your campaign?

TR: Do you have any real experience with politics?

AG: Well, this is my first time running for elected office.

TR: Have you ever worked in the political arena in another capacity?

AG: I have participated in—I've been politically active. You know, in general, voting. And just supporting Democrats throughout the years of my life.


TR: Your campaign was a bit unorthodox. Why didn't you invest in even simple things like signs or a Web site?

AG: All of my campaign has been funded out of my personal money, money out of my pockets. So it's been a low-budget campaign. I haven't spent too much money. I just kept a simple, ordinary, simple, old-fashioned campaign. Nothing fancy.


TR: What do you estimate you spent on your campaign in total?

AG: Not much. I didn't spend much. But that's not the issue. The issue is getting South Carolina back to work, getting our economy and state back to work, and our country.


TR: How do you think you beat your opponent, Vic Rawl, who raised nearly $200,000?

AG: I didn't know he had that much. What did he spend it on?

TR: I'd imagine a Web site, a staff, signage, things most political campaigns have.


AG: Well, I'm self-managed.

TR: Do you have anyone working on your campaign?

AG: I have friends. And some of their friends are helping, so nothing fancy.

AG: I have nothing. I can't afford all that.

TR: Including the $10,400 filing fee to become a candidate, would you say you spent less than $12,000 on your campaign?


AG: A whole lot less.

TR: How, then, did you beat someone who had more than 10 times the money you had?


AG: What was that amount again that he spent? A hundred bucks?

TR: No. He raised $186,000.

AG: A hundred eighty-six thousand? That's kind of amazing. That's a lot. I mean, that was one of the things I ran into when I decided to run. They were like, 'You don't have a hundred million dollars. How are you gonna win? How do you expect to do anything if you don't have a hundred million dollars? What you gonna do?' But in the end, it's not about money, it's the votes that count. That's what everyone has to remember.


TR: And how do you think you got those votes?

AG: I campaigned hard across the state and people identify with me and my message. They want jobs; they want South Carolina working again' they want justice.


TR: What do you mean by justice?

AG: We spend two times more on inmates than we do students. We want justice in the justice system. We want to make sure that the punishment fits the crime. We want better education for our children. We want more parental involvement.


TR: In what specific ways would you go about improving your state's public schools?

AG: We need more parental involvement. We need a stronger Parent Teacher Student Association, and we need better facilities. We need to remodel dilapidated buildings. We need to build new schools. In certain situations, we need brand new schools. These are things South Carolinians want.


TR: Did citizens tell you this when you campaigned?

AG: Yes.

AG: All across the state.

TR: Any specific stops or speeches you can remember?

AG: Nothing in particular. I talked with a lot of people over the phone, and people in the press. They'll print what they want in the press, just bits of it. I don't know. It worked out. I worked hard. It's not a big surprise.


TR: How do you plan to beat Jim DeMint in November?

AG: I would like to debate him in September. I would like an hour on a major network. Just to, you know, discuss issues about South Carolina and the rest of the country.


TR: What do you think makes you a better candidate than DeMint?

AG: We have more unemployed now than any other time in South Carolina's history, so something isn't working. We spend two times more on inmates than students. Priorities are not in order. I want to make a difference and Jim—the incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint—he's against the health care reform. They're trying to repeal the health care law that was passed. The Republicans are trying to repeal the health care bill that was signed into law recently. Things like that. That's the difference. I'm for health care reform. And getting folks to work here.


TR: Do you plan on getting a Web site now that you're through the primaries?

AG: Well, I need campaign contributions to really get my Web site up. I'm working on that now, but that comes from campaign contributions.


TR: Do you have any?

AG: No, but I'm working on some things.

Cord Jefferson is a staff writer for The Root. Follow him on Twitter.