South Carolina chef Nathalie Dupree wants your vote. But not for The Next Food Network Star.
Dupree is spicing up the cornucopia of candidates that comprise one of the most colorful Senate races this year, announcing her write-in candidacy in Charleston Thursday against incumbent Republican Senator Jim DeMint and improbable Democratic candidate Alvin Greene.
Billing herself as a moderate Republican, Dupree told Fox News she’s running because DeMint isn’t bringing home the bacon.
“Jim DeMint would not sign an earmark for a study for South Carolina to have its ports dredged, for $400,000,”she said in a phone interview Friday. The sum, she said, is small, but has the potential to make a huge difference on the state’s financial future.
“Our ports, particularly Charleston, are our economic engines. Without this study, we cannot remain competitive with other East Coast ports,” she continued. “Instead of us getting our money, it’s going to Georgia—one of our biggest competitors—and we’ve dropped from fourth to ninth” in seaport business.
The study in question is an Army Corps of Engineers project evaluating the possibility of deepening the Port of Charleston harbor, which would allow larger ships with more cargo to dock. DeMint, well known for his aversion to pork barrel spending and earmarks, proposed to get the money via a plan to overhaul the Army Corps of Engineers entirely, so that earmarks would be unnecessary to fund such a critical project.
South Carolina’s senior senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, proposed the earmark in July, saying in a statement, “The $400,000 appropriation is essential this year to ensure we do not fall behind our competitors. It’s important we give [the Corps] the green light.”
“We literally have tens of thousands of jobs across South Carolina and millions of dollars in business riding on this decision,” Graham’s statement read.
Dupree echoed that sentiment, and took a jab at extracurricular activities she says may be distracting DeMint from his primary duties. “I am just determined to make [DeMint] understand that his primary obligation is to get jobs to South Carolina,” she said, “not to support candidates in Alaska, Delaware, Nevada, and Arizona, but to come home and help work on our infrastructure, get us money for our highways—get us real money for our infrastructure which will give people jobs.” Dupree refers to the kingmaker status DeMint has earned this election cycle by backing a streak of winning candidates in other races, often to the chagrin of GOP establishment.
The port problem may be the lynchpin of Dupree’s campaign, but she’s counting on more to earn South Carolinian votes than just facts and figures.
“This is not a good year for politicians,” she said. “A lot of [voters] want real people to run, people who are not politicians but who know about things like FDA regulations, agriculture, business, manufacturing—I’m a businesswoman, and everyone knows that.”
“People know that I know South Carolina,” she continued. “I know about [the late Senator] Strom Thurmond and the good senators we’ve had, and they know Strom Thurmond would be turning over in his grave right now.”
As a chef and best-selling cookbook author, Dupree is something of a state celebrity. “I’m known all over South Carolina,” she said. “I’ve been on television here for 20 years… these people know me, they have watched me put food on the table.”
Dupree isn’t the only unlikely candidate in this Senate race. Unemployed military veteran and alleged felon Alvin Greene surprised everyone when he won the South Carolina Democratic primary in June. Greene has had little to say about his campaign other than that he is a “legitimate candidate,” but House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has called for a federal probe to investigate Greene’s win.
“I just think this is a ploy by someone to dishonor and embarrass the Democratic Party,” Clyburn said in June of Greene’s shocking win.
Dupree said she thinks Greene will take the party line vote—21 or 22 percent—but hasn’t done enough campaigning to convince independents and undecideds to vote for him.
It’s that voting block Dupree hopes to attract. She doesn’t expect to win in November, but she’ll consider it a victory if she keeps DeMint’s vote total to around 48 percent—a plurality big enough to win the seat but not a majority or mandate. And she says she’s on her way there.
Dupree decided to run just a week before her announcement, and she said supporters are already turning out in droves—some even hand-delivering checks—to contribute to her campaign.
But regardless of whether she wins, one thing is for sure: Chef Dupree’s supporters will eat well on election night.