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What if Alvin Greene just... won?

When less-than-adroit first-time candidate Alvin Greene won the Democratic Party's nomination for U.S. Senate in South Carolina, I did what a lot of reporters did -- made calls and looked at data to see how the heck it happened. Republicans from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on down denied having anything to do with Greene's campaign. Yet Democrats, led by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C), have raised questions about whether Greene was planted by the GOP.

You see what Democrats are doing. It's possible, as happened in Illinois earlier this year, that a party can become saddled with a bad nominee and shame him/her into stepping down. But let's be clear -- the Democratic claim that Greene was planted is based on a lot of vapor and little evidence. Sure, it's possible that South Carolina's warring Republican consultants have taken a blood oath and are revealing nothing about the plan to help Greene get on the ballot. But the best explanation for Greene's win remains the easy one -- Democrats who didn't care about the race marked the first and (marginally) more familiar name on the ballot.

How often does this happen? It happened one month ago in Indiana. Democrats held a low-interest primary for the right to take on Rep. Dan Burton. Everyone in the party backed Nasser Hanna, a professor who raised $110,995 and spent a little less than a third of that. Nobody endorsed Tim Crawford, an unemployed conservative activist who spent no money. Yet Crawford not only won -- he crushed him with 60.9 percent of the vote, a bigger margin than Greene scored in South Carolina. He won every single county.

What happened? Crawford's name was first on the ballot and -- though we're getting into rougher territory -- it resembles those of voters in the district more than "Nasser Hanna." (Hillary Clinton won this district over Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary.)

It's frustrating for party strategists to realize that its electorate is so sleepy, their candidates so disengaged, that stuff like this can happen. But the day after Greene won, before this spinning started, DSCC Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) explained that Democrats simply didn't engage in the race. The subsequent charges of GOP trickery don't have a basis in the facts.

By David Weigel  |  June 15, 2010; 10:16 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Election  
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