Big campaign bucks promise to keep 'You lie' outcry alive

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 11, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Rep. Joe Wilson and his Democratic challenger said Friday that they'd raised nearly $1.8 million combined in the 40 hours after the South Carolina Republican yelled "you lie" during President Barack Obama's address to Congress.

That total — more than $1 million for Democrat Rob Miller, $750,000 for Wilson — is almost as much as the two men received over the entire 24-month campaign cycle for their 2008 race, in which Wilson defeated Miller by 54-46 percent.

Meanwhile, Wilson faced a possible official rebuke next week in the House of Representatives unless he apologized to his colleagues. He's already apologized to Obama.

The astonishing campaign numbers — all hard cash, aides said, in the bank via online contributions — are the best indicator that Wilson's outburst Wednesday evening and its aftermath have made him a marked man among Democrats, but also engaged conservative supporters.

"Joe Wilson, already weakened by the last election, will be further damaged by his shameful outburst toward the commander in chief," said Jessica Santillo, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Asked whether the Democrats had placed Wilson at the top of their hit list, Santillo responded that he's "done a good job of doing that himself."

Miller, an Iraq war veteran and former Marine Corps captain, gave Wilson the toughest challenge of his eight-year congressional career in November in a conservative Southern district in the heart of the Bible belt.

With donations pouring into both campaigns from around the country, the rematch all but certainly will be one of the nation's most watched races over the next year.

Wilson, a retired Army National Guard colonel and former aide to the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, appears destined to become a poster boy in the Democrats' effort to paint Republicans as members of "the party of no."

A new poll indicated at least short-term harm to Wilson. He trailed Miller by 44-43 percent in a survey of his district by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in Raleigh, N.C.

"We are not going to comment on any poll done on behalf of our opponent," said Ryan Murphy, a Wilson spokesman. "The congressman is focused on making sure we move forward with reforms to our nation's health insurance system so that South Carolina families can get access to more affordable coverage. He is also focused on working to bring more jobs to South Carolina."

Many conservative activists viewed Wilson as a hero for rebuking the president. Visitors from across the country continued to stop by his Capitol Hill office Friday to offer moral and, in some cases financial, support.

Despite admitting that he "did wrong," Wilson sought to capitalize on his newfound fame.

He posted a new video titled "Stand Up for Joe" on his campaign Web site.

After noting that his outburst "was wrong" and that he'd apologized to Obama, Wilson vowed to continue speaking out against the president's bid to provide government benefits for millions of uninsured Americas.

"On these issues, I will not be muzzled," Wilson said. "I will speak up and speak loudly against this risky plan."

"Fox News Sunday" booked Wilson for an interview this weekend for what was thought to be his first appearance on a major Sunday morning talk show.

Miller, who said he'd heard from more than 20,000 supporters in less than two days, also sought to gain more momentum from the now-famous incident.

"Congressman Wilson continues to use his shameful outburst to raise money from his big contributors and attack you — my grass roots contributors," Miller said in an appeal on his Web site.

As Obama addressed a joint session of Congress late Wednesday, Wilson called out "You lie" when the president said that illegal immigrants wouldn't get medical benefits under his health care plan.

Wilson called the White House after the speech and apologized to former Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff. Obama said Thursday that he accepted Wilson's apology.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said he asked Wilson three times on the House floor Thursday to apologize to his colleagues, but that Wilson had refused to do so.

Clyburn and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., threatened to pass a "resolution of disapproval" unless Wilson apologizes on the House floor.

Such a censure vote would force other Republicans to make a difficult decision whether to defend a loyal but embattled party stalwart who acted rudely toward the president on live national television.

Wilson rejected the demand as unnecessary after his post-speech apology to Obama, but aides said Friday that he was weighing it anew.

Clyburn indicated that Wilson won't be given much time to decide.

"We'll see what happens Monday," Clyburn said.

(William Douglas contributed to this article.)

ON THE WEB

Republican Rep. Joe Wilson's campaign

Democratic opponent Rob Miller's campaign

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Instant fame for South Carolina GOP congressman who heckled Obama

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