COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint will return to Washington for a second term after an easy election that saw his national status rise as a kingmaker for the tea party movement and an unlikely challenge from an oddball opponent.
Based on AP analysis of preliminary exit poll data, the Republican rolled over unemployed military veteran Alvin Greene, a Democrat who won his party's nomination but not its support.
Greene lives with his father and faces a felony obscenity charge, accused of showing pornography to a female college student. During occasional interviews in his nominal campaign, Greene insisted that DeMint had started the recession.
Greene barely campaigned and never raised enough to break the $5,000 threshold that required him to report finances. DeMint spent $3.5 million he raised to instead help other conservative candidates.
"I'm really fond of Jim DeMint, I think he's been courageous and bold and an exemplary senator," said Jenny Edwards, a 57-year-old Columbia resident who was laid off over the summer from her job as a school librarian.
DeMint faces Democrat Alvin Greene and Green Party candidate Tom Clements on the general election ballot. He's spent much of the election season backing tea party candidates in other states.
He gave early support to Florida's Marco Rubio and Kentucky's Rand Paul, both of whom defeated establishment Republican candidates to win their primaries. When GOP leaders attacked Delaware's Christine O'Donnell, DeMint gave her money and a key endorsement, helping the underdog pull off one of the year's biggest political upsets over Republican Rep. Michael Castle.
DeMint's campaign fund peaked at more than $3 million this summer and he spent little on himself, instead doling out $1.3 million to Republican parties in states like Colorado, Florida and Kentucky, where he's supported tea party-leaning candidates. South Carolina's own GOP got $250,000 from the Republican, who now reports having $2.5 million on hand.
But the 59-year-old from Greenville has been rivaled by Greene when it comes to media attention.
An unemployed military veteran who lives with his father, Greene surprised his party with an upset primary win over a former state lawmaker in June. Democrats declined to back his run after The Associated Press reported that he faces a felony obscenity charge for showing pornography to a university student, which his lawyer has characterized as a misguided attempt at flirtation.
Greene's fundraising never met the $5,000 threshold required for reporting to the Federal Election Commission and he appeared only sporadically at barbecues and meet-the-candidate events.
Some voters said Greene got their vote because they simply were supporting all Democrats. Others said they split their tickets.
"I didn't want to vote for Alvin Greene because I thought he's a joke," said Jacob John, a 25-year-old Columbia business consultant who voted for DeMint and for Democrats in contests for governor and the U.S. House.
But Greene did earn ballots for other reasons.
Bill Simpson, a 66-year-old retired lawyer from Columbia, said he would not vote for DeMint because he believes the Republican is trying to obstruct progress in Washington instead of compromising. So, he voted for Greene.
"If the Democrats are lame enough to allow him to win their nomination, then they should be punished," Simpson said.
Only Clements mounted a media campaign, using TV and radio airtime to criticize DeMint's absence from the state and focus on candidates elsewhere.
Nathalie DuPree, a celebrity chef and cookbook author, jumped into the race as one of several write-in candidates because of DeMint's opposition to federal earmarks for a study of deepening the Charleston Harbor.
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