This week's column:
Third-party candidates are often left to quietly suffer a sound defeat. The money and manpower aren't there for a high-profile statewide race, and the grassroots support is, well, too deep in the roots. Never mind the fact that there typically aren't enough nonpartisan, unaffiliated voters to best two big-party candidates.
But, if we've already learned one thing from the U.S. Senate race to represent South Carolina, it's that this is not your traditional election season. And with enough animosity going around for the two major party candidates, it may just mean a competitive race for Green Party candidate Tom Clements.
Alvin Greene's surprise win in the Democratic Primary last month shocked political observers, but it also disappointed disaffected Republicans and moderates hoping for a spirited challenge against arch-conservative Jim DeMint. Greene certainly offers a working-man appeal in the race, but he's had a tough time getting beyond stumbling interviews and his noticeable absence on the primary campaign trail.
Two potential independent candidates, businesswoman Linda Ketner and Charleston School of Law professor Constance Anastopoulo, dashed the hopes of supporters last week when they each turned away calls to run.
The subject of a statewide petition campaign, Ketner asked that organizers shelve the effort. She cited the difficult task of getting off the ground with a little more than 100 days before the election.
"At this late date, it's just not possible to assemble the team and resources we need to mount the effective campaign we all want," she said in a statement. "Bottom line: yes, we deserve — and desperately need — better government, but a last minute campaign without essential resources won't get us that outcome."
That void makes for a strategic opportunity for the Green Party near the top of the statewide ticket, says Eugene Platt, a candidate for S.C. House District 115 representing James Island and a state organizer for the Green Party.
"At the very least, what happened in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate has given the Green Party a statewide visibility we did not enjoy previously," Platt says.
A longtime environmentalist and regional nuclear campaign coordinator for the Friends of the Earth, Clements notes his name will appear on the top of the ballot (a hypothetical factor in Greene's unexpected victory).
He'll need more than ballot positioning to defeat an incumbent popular with his far-right base and a Democrat likely to secure what we'll playfully refer to as the "Jesse Ventura" vote. That said, polling suggests a distinct window of opportunity that isn't often available to Green Party candidates.
In a Rasmussen poll a week after the June primaries, DeMint held a 58 percent majority, but Greene only had 21 percent support, suggesting Democrats and moderates aren't automatically getting in line behind their candidate. Black voters, expected to flock to an African American senator, were split in their support for Greene.
There's also a recognizable portion of the GOP that isn't thrilled with a second DeMint term. In a primary race that wasn't on anyone's radar, unknown Susan Gaddy found 70,000 votes against the incumbent.
Clements certainly recognizes the opportunity to find a mix of support from disinterested moderates in the middle and dissatisfied party members on either side of the political spectrum. He sent out a release following Ketner's announcement that highlighted his big-tent approach.
"This gives the green light to disaffected Democrats, Republicans, and independents to unify behind my campaign," he said. "I will listen to all South Carolinians of all views and beliefs and pay close attention to the rightful anger and mistrust about the mess in Washington."
Clements will need more than anger at Washington insiders; he's going to need to find anger among South Carolina's two-party establishment.