Promising to "bring home the bacon," celebrity chef and Charleston resident Nathalie Dupree has thrown her chef's hat into the ring for U.S. Senate.
A popular TV presence on cooking shows and a lauded cookbook author, Dupree says she's grown frustrated with U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint's decision to campaign everywhere else but South Carolina — seemingly confident in his chances against long-shot Democratic opponent Alvin Greene.
"I'm asking the people of South Carolina to write in my name as a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate against Jim DeMint," Dupree said Wednesday afternoon, standing in front of the Charleston Harbor, which is of particular concern to Dupree due to DeMint's stalling on a grant sought by the State Ports Authority.
The last candidate to successfully run a write-in campaign was South Carolina's Strom Thurmond. If anyone would know the challenges and pitfalls of such a run, it would be Dupree's husband, historian and professor Jack Bass, who has authored a biography of the senator.
"I'm no Strom Thurmond," she says. "The odds of that happening today are far greater, and I know that, too. But it's a fight worth making that will enable us to show South Carolina's real stuff to the nation."
Dupree is hiring campaign staff and told the New York Times she plans to spend up to $100,00 on the run, including advertising.
She obviously understands her background in the kitchen is ripe for playful prose.
"I want to cook his goose," she says of DeMint. "And it's time to bring home the bacon."
Beyond the cooking quips (Dupree offers several, and frankly we could stir up a few ourselves), this is one angry woman.
In early September, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Congressman Henry Brown came to Charleston to call attention to DeMint's opposition to a $400,000 federal grant that would begin analysis on deepening the Charleston Harbor. Legislators often request money for specific projects back home in larger federal spending bills. Called earmarks, this spending has been DeMint's boogeyman, even though it accounts for a small amount compared to spending on things like the military, social security, and medicare.
DeMint has said he's not standing in the way of the port earmark, but supporters of the grant request say his lack of support has made the Charleston harbor the only port on the East Coast left out of an upcoming spending bill. The Charleston Post and Courier (no liberal rag, to be sure) wrote an editorial critical of DeMint.
The earmark stalling was the final straw for Dupree.
"This port is the economic engine of South Carolina," she says. "This port brought in BMW, Boeing, and Michelin. How can this be that we have a Senator who is so vain and egotistical and driven for his own political agenda that he won't vote for $400,000 for this state, this city."
Anywhere but Here
With a lack of any major challengers, this campaign season has found DeMint all over the nation, raising money and finding far-right support for a variety of conservative challengers to moderate Republicans. His success in the GOP primaries has prompted some to label DeMint a kingmaker and wonder about his chances as a dark horse presidential candidate in 2012.
"I want to have a senator who cares more about South Carolina than he does about electing people in Arizona and Alaska and Delaware," Dupree says. "We need two full-time senators working for us."
The candidate says that she'll reach out across the state to voters, visiting every county.
"I'm going to walk the streets and talk to the people and I'm going to ask them if they have jobs," she says. "If the industry that they're in has suffered. And if more money coming into this state would help them keep their job or get a job."
Dupree says her decision to run came from discussions with several people frustrated at their options.
"I've heard people say that at dinner parties and on the street and at Walmart that they didn't know who to vote for,"
But voters will have other options, including Democrat Alvin Greene and Green Party candidate Tom Clements.
"I don't know Alvin Greene and I didn't vote for him. God bless him," says Dupree. "The only one I'm talking bad about in this campaign is Jim DeMint."