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South Carolina Senate Race: Activist Going Green to Target DeMint

by Roddie Burris

There's a third candidate in the South Carolina U.S. Senate race - nationally known environmental activist Tom Clements of Columbia - who, right now, is struggling to gain name recognition equal to that of Democrat Alvin Greene.

Tom Clements speaking to the Thunder and Lightning Award dinner as one of the South Carolina Progressive Network honorees in 2009. Clements has worked for Greenpeace International for 13 years. His world travel to challenge various leaders on nuclear issues has taken him to Russia, Japan, South Korea, and Europe.

Closer to home, Clements also led the environmental organization's nuclear watchdog efforts on operations at the nearby Savannah River Site.

The 59-year-old Clements is the South Carolina Green Party nominee, on the ballot with surprise Democratic Party nominee Greene in the race to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint in November.

Greene, 33, an unemployed Army veteran who lives with his father in Manning, has garnered unprecedented national and international media attention since he won the June 8 primary.

"But (media focus on the U.S. Senate race) hasn't been about the issues," complained Clements, who won the Green Party's nomination at its Columbia convention May 1 and expected to face DeMint and Democrat Vic Rawl. Rawl, a Charleston County councilman and former judge who was upset by Greene. "I want it to be about the issues.

"I want it to be about where is Jim DeMint, and why doesn't Jim DeMint come back to South Carolina to face the voters and discuss the issues," Clements said.

"I want to debate him and the amazing Mr. Greene, and we're going to be putting out a call for him to come home, because I think he is AWOL from South Carolina," Clements said.

Calling out DeMint

Clements, who contends DeMint, 59, is spending his time "running around the country working for radical candidates," insists he also is hearing those sentiments expressed by Republicans around the state.

Clements, like most third party candidates, is so far off the radar he was not listed in recent polling about the race.

But he is hoping that the combination of animosity toward incumbents, in this case Republicans, and Greene's inability to win Democrats' support will give him an edge.

"If anybody wants to vote against the system, I'm their guy," Clements said jovially, while also expressing concern about the way he says Greene has been "mistreated by the media."

Clements said the media has fixated on Greene's lack of polish..

"I don't think it's fair," Clements said.

A poll conducted by Republican-leaning Rasmussen Reports gave DeMint a 42-point lead over Greene, who garnered 20 percent support. Twenty-two percent of respondents said the were uncertain who they would support. Clements said that indicates those voters wanted somebody other than the Democrat or Republican.

Clements said he called Greene after his primary victory over Rawl and the state Democratic Party establishment, but said the conversation was very brief.

"I do intend to focus on DeMint," Clements said. "But I think it's incumbent upon Alvin to present his positions and his views, and I will address them as necessary.

"I'm not leveling my gun at Alvin, as much as Mr. DeMint. But if Alvin comes out fighting on the issues," Clements said, "then we'll engage him. But I'm aimed at DeMint and trying to get him back to South Carolina to talk to the people of the state."

Full-time environmentalist

Clements, who has a full-time job as Southeastern Nuclear Campaign coordinator with Friends of the Earth, has never run for public office. He has no prior affiliation with the Green Party.

He has a website, clementsforsenate.com, where supporters can make contributions through Paypal; Clements also has a campaign manager and a steering committee, and he is putting together a growing brigade of volunteers, he said.

A Savannah native, Clements worked as campaign manager for Democratic U.S. Rep. Doug Bernard in the early 1980s, and as a nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace for 13 years.

Fluent in Spanish, Clements also was director of the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington, D.C., for three years, an unarmed escort for Colombian human rights workers for the Colombia Peace Brigade in South America for a year, an environmental compliance inspector for coal mining in Kentucky and a Red Cross volunteer.

Clements is targeting universities for votes and volunteers. He has plans to meet with Democrats, and he is looking to secure a storefront office for a state headquarters. Clements expects to mail his initial fundraising appeal this week.

"We're serious about this," he said.

Clements said the Green Party asked him in January to consider a run for the U.S. Senate, which he pondered for two months before signing the paperwork at the State Election Commission at the end of March.

"What really pushed me over, besides the feeling that DeMint really needed somebody to challenge him on the issues, was the military budget presented to Congress in early February," Clements said. "It was the largest military budget ever, and I knew DeMint would support it."

Clements knows the odds are long. But he thinks a conversation about federal spending, offshore drilling, alternative energy and whether the United States should end the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will let voters know they have an alternative to DeMint.

No Green Party candidate has ever been elected to the U.S. Senate. So far, the best the party founded in 2001 has been able to muster is a few state house victories in Maine, Arkansas, and California.

But because of Democrat Greene's standing with his party, some think the Green Party, with Clements on the ticket, may post one of its best showings yet.

University of Virginia political science director Larry Sabato recently tweeted "it is possible" that Clements could beat the Democrats in the South Carolina Senate race, though few think DeMint won't win easily.

Clements, of course, is among the few.

"I'm gonna have fun doing this, and I want to raise some issues that I don't think would be raised if I weren't in the race," Clements said. "Given the situation in South Carolina, and the anger with incumbents, I think there is a real possibility I could be elected."

If he wins, Clements pledges to ride his bicycle to Washington, D.C., to take office in January, and said he will invite a bunch of people who care about alternative energy to take the ride along with him.

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