MANNING, SC — Unlikely U.S. Senate nominee Alvin Greene introduced himself to a worldwide audience as well as curious neighbors Sunday as he laid out his platform in an eight-minute speech that alternated between forceful and awkward.
Nearly 400 people, including TV networks and reporters from as far as London, packed a middle school gym in his hometown to hear South Carolina's Democratic U.S. Senate candidate deliver his first known campaign speech.
They came to hear the 32-year-old unemployed veteran who easily — and surprisingly — won last month's primary over a better-known and much better funded opponent. He now faces Republican Sen. Jim DeMint.
"My campaign is about getting South Carolina and America back to work, and moving South Carolina and America forward," Greene said. "South Carolina and America cannot afford six more years of my opponent."
In dozens of post-primary interviews, Greene had revealed himself as a man of few words but offered little about why he's running or what he'd do.
"He doesn't talk very much," said Louise McBride, a postal worker who said she has tried to engage him in conversation.
Greene spoke to the Manning branch of the NAACP, which moved its meeting from a church to the school because of the outsized interest. The event had the flavor of a religious gathering, with a gospel choir and an offering collection.
Greene began with a nod to his audience.
"I'm the best candidate in the U.S. Senate race in South Carolina," he said. "I'm also the best candidate for (the NAACP) Image Award."
He went on to talk about the loss of jobs and said so-called green jobs would put people back to work and save energy. He didn't mention an earlier proposal to create jobs by making action figures of himself.
He promised to do more for education and called for improvements in infrastructure, including completion of a long-planned interstate highway between Detroit and the S.C. beach. But he offered few specifics.
Toward the end of his remarks, he began an anecdote about "this guy," a "person of color" who got in legal trouble. But the story trailed off, as it appeared he either lost the train or changed his mind.
"But anyway, moving on, let's get South Carolina back to work," he said, "...Let's get South Carolina and America back to work for the people again."
As half the audience responded with a standing ovation, Greene held up a hand, as if to thank them. Without more ado, he turned and walked back to his seat on stage.
When a reporter knocked on his door before the event, Greene declined an interview. "I'll say what I have to say there," he said through a screen door. "That's all."
After his speech, Greene walked past a cluster of waiting reporters without answering questions.
The audience included two Clarendon County sheriff's deputies who arrested Greene last November on felony charges of allegedly showing pornography to a college student. He has refused to comment on the charge.
But introducing him Sunday, Willie Bethune, a NAACP member, defended Greene.
"We aren't a country of men but of laws," he said. "(Greene) has not been found guilty of anything...We allow people in high places to vilify this man."
Some people who came to hear Greene acknowledged that they'd voted for him over fellow Democrat Vic Rawls without knowing much of anything about him.
"Greene, I liked the name Greene," said retiree Doris Riley. "Didn't know who Rawls was either."
Retired Clarendon County teacher Katie Nash didn't know much about either candidate either. So she said she voted for the more common name. Sunday she liked what she heard, though like others who listened, she believed he showed a lack of polish.
"The more he speaks the better he'll be," she said. "Although he's got some problems he's got to clear up, he's going to be a role model for a lot of people."
State Democratic Party chair Carol Fowler was not at the event. But late last week she seemed resigned to Greene's candidacy.
"We continue to hope that he will get his legal problems behind him," she said, "and if that happens, that he will get out and campaign."
(Morrill is a staff writer for The Charlotte Observer and reported from Manning, SC)
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