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Posted: October 1, 2010 12:30 a.m.

A surprise write-in

It was an easy four-hour drive to Charleston last weekend. Bob was off to Darlington, S.C., to drive a friend's race car, so I headed out for a visit with my friend Nathalie Dupree and her husband Jack Bass, the South Carolina historian and author. Supper was ready when I walked in the door, a plate full of vegetables and salads, one of mixed rice, lady peas, grilled peaches and light vinaigrette. Her new thing was okra sliced lengthwise and roasted quickly with olive oil and salt. "They're like potato chips," she said, and they were.

Supper was eaten on our laps in her crowded study where she has two cookbooks in the works and one deadline imminent. The talk turned immediately to South Carolina politics, always a source for amusement, and I became a rapt listener. Republican U.S. Senator Jim DeMint is facing the controversial Democrat candidate Alvin Green who came from nowhere and lacks any sort of credential to qualify him for office. In fact, a sexual misconduct case is pending against him.

DeMint has drawn the ire of some South Carolinians for refusing federal stimulus funds or earmarks for projects important to the state. Chief among them is money for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' study that would support deepening the Port of Charleston to be ready for dramatically larger cargo ships expected in 2014. South Carolina's ports are critical to the economic investments made in the state, such as BMW, Michelin North America and most recently Boeing. In the meantime, DeMint is campaigning heavily for Tea Party candidates all over the country, while ignoring South Carolina in the election season, many feel.

Well, Nathalie and Jack, staunch Democrats, were mad as heck about all this and not planning to take it anymore. To my great surprise, the topic became whether Nathalie would launch a write-in campaign as an independent against DeMint only five weeks out. We considered the pros: Nathalie's high visibility as an author and TV personality; her record as a community activist; a history in party politics; many friends who would support the campaign as volunteers and donors; and her many personal contacts among the media, especially national media. We considered the negatives: Clearly a long-shot candidacy; no money on hand; a campaign that would have to be run by volunteers and no paid staff; and having to educate the voters about write-in logistics.

Jack, once a Congressional candidate, weighed the negatives heavily, but the longer we talked into the night, the more euphoric we became about the possibility Nathalie could seriously impact the political debate. Winning was not the goal, but holding DeMint accountable was. "I'm going to cook his goose!" she chortled.

Calls went out to friends and political activists that night and the next day. Spirits ebbed and flowed. When Nathalie was "up," Jack was "down," then vice versa. A contact sent two seasoned and big-bucks campaign consultants for a conversation, and they gave a hearty thumbs-up to the idea. "Just do it," they said, "and have fun at it!" There was no turning back at that point. The decision was made, and Nathalie was a candidate facing at least one other write-in campaign.

Between Sunday, when I left for home, and Wednesday, announcement drafts and bios were readied, campaign slogans bandied about, a plane booked for fly-arounds Thursday and Friday, volunteers signed up for key positions and donations began flowing in. It's been a breathless pace. The woman we love for her Southern cooking and unflappable personality is off and running to make a difference outside the kitchen. And don't forget that South Carolina is the only state in the union ever to have elected a U.S. Senator from a write-in campaign. The winner: none other than long-serving Strom Thurmond. Lightning could strike twice.

Barbara Morgan is a resident of Covington with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. Her column appears on Fridays.


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