Robert Dobbs arrived from Wisconsin with big talk and big plans to renovate a Myrtle Beach bar and bring his entrepreneurial spirit to the Palmetto State.
Then he dropped the bombshell. He announced last July that he was running for Congress as a Democrat — a Blue Dog Democrat, according to his website. Later, that reference was dropped, and Dobbs became a progressive Democrat — so progressive, in fact, that he got the endorsement of the Progressive Democrats of America. He recruited businesswoman Susen Shapiro and Berkeley County Democratic activist Patrick Labbe to staff his campaign.
Dobbs was on the road a lot, not easy to catch up with, but always in touch by cell phone and e-mail, Shapiro told me last week. But, for Shapiro, some of those e-mails did not ring true, and there was also the matter of Dobbs' failure to pay his two-member staff. Then an e-mail from Dobbs' wife left that little staff with the impression that the candidate did not actually live in South Carolina.
On March 26, Shapiro and Labbe stood before the Myrtle Beach bar, just a couple hundred yards from the surf — the bar Dobbs claimed he was renovating, the bar where he said he lived in an apartment upstairs. But it was obvious, Shapiro said, that no renovation was going on and that no one lived upstairs.
Labbe pulled out his cell phone and called Dobbs. "Robert, we're downstairs," he said. "Come down and meet us."
"What for?" he answered.
Shapiro and Labbe looked at each other and knew the jig was up. Later that day, they resigned and e-mailed a statement to local Democrats: "As the campaign progressed, there were numerous inconsistencies in Dobbs' communications to us ... We cannot verify where he lives, South Carolina or Wisconsin."
Actually, most of the dirt on Dobbs was already dug up by Rob Groce, a conscientious independent blogger at the Charleston Democrat Examiner. According to Groce, Dobbs was, until recently, a member of the Board of Supervisors of Manitowoc County, Wisc. According to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, he ran for the Wisconsin state legislature as an Independent in 2006, finishing a distant third and drawing only 299 votes out of some 17,000 cast.
He was re-elected to the county board of supervisors in 2008, but his poor attendance at board and committee meetings led other members to try to censure and remove him from office. He resigned on June 25, 2008.
According to Groce, this was only the beginning of Dobbs' troubles. He was involved in four different law suits from 2008 to 2009, losing two of them. In 2008, he was charged with disorderly conduct and domestic abuse. The charges were eventually dropped. His Wisconsin bar and grill filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
In July 2009, two months after his bankruptcy and nine months after his domestic abuse charge in Wisconsin, Dobbs announced his candidacy for Henry Brown's soon-to-be-empty 1st Congressional District seat. Dobbs then received the endorsement of Progressive Democrats of America. How did this happen?
I will not try to sort out the posts on Groce's blog, but there is enough cat-scratching and bitch-slapping going on among local Democrats to fill a season of Desperate Housewives.
The whole thing smacks of the perennial Ben Frasier affair. Frasier has filed as a Democrat to run in the First District in the last 10 elections. He has defended the Confederate flag atop the Statehouse, challenged a woman's right to abortion, and said gays should be kept out of the military and prayer should be kept in public schools. Worse, he seems to have two residences — one on Wadmalaw Island and one in Maryland. Now he has filed to run again in 2010 against one other candidate. He continues to force 1st District Democrats to hold a primary, and he continues to be a nuisance and embarrassment to the party.
And don't forget Bob Conley of North Myrtle Beach, a recent arrival from Indiana, with a Republican political past. In 2008, he was able to sneak in and actually win the state Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Democrats are still trying to live that down.
Why do South Carolina Democrats keep falling for these ringers? "I think that we're more trusting, and begin with the assumption that events, and people are as they outwardly appear," said George Tempel, Charleston Democratic Party chairman. "That said, I feel that there should be a better vetting process."
Yes, trust but verify. Jeez! Didn't Reagan say that?