Joe Wilson's Obama 'You lie' shout having a big payoff

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 4, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- The suddenly national congressional contest between Rep. Joe Wilson and challenger Rob Miller has blown past the $4 million fundraising record for any U.S. House race in South Carolina -- and is on pace to challenge the most expensive campaigns in the country's history.

Despite saying they want to move beyond Wilson's now famous "you lie!" yell at President Barack Obama, Wilson and Miller continued to capitalize on the national attention the Springdale Republican's outburst has brought their campaign.

As the Sept. 30 deadline approached, both men intensively sought money to bulk up their third-quarter totals.

"Help us take back Washington," Wilson tweeted supporters Wednesday. "Please watch this video and make a donation today."

With 12,163 Twitter followers, Wilson was the third-most popular House member on the social-networking Web site, ahead of his congressional boss, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, and gaining ground on Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the top of the list.

After an initial surge of online donations, Wilson had received thousands of mailed donations from around the country, Preston Grisham, Wilson's campaign manager, said Friday.

Miller, a Beaufort Democrat, attended a $250-a-plate fundraiser at a popular seafood restaurant in Washington, hosted by former aides to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and former Sen. Fritz Hollings.

"Thanks to everybody that was able to contribute last night before the end of the quarter!" Miller tweeted Thursday to his backers. "Honored by your support."

The number of Miller's Facebook friends vaulted to 3,000 on Sept. 13 -- four days after Wilson shouted at Obama as he addressed Congress -- and continued climbing to 6,000 on Monday.

Wilson strayed far from his district last week, embarking on what he called a "thank you tour" to greet Upstate supporters who, along with conservative activists around the country, have hailed him as a hero for rebuking Obama.

Wilson later traveled even farther afield, with scheduled appearances at weekend fund-raisers for Republican lawmakers in Michigan and Missouri.

The congressman said he'd turned down most requests to speak to Republican groups or raise money for GOP officeholders and candidates across the country.

"I've received hundreds of invitations," Wilson told McClatchy. "I've had dozens of members of Congress ask me to appear in their districts. (Rep.) Michele Bachmann said, 'Joe, you're a hero in Minnesota.' I love traveling the country, but I love traveling the Second District more."

Miller mocked Wilson for basking in his newfound fame.

"He's out there on his 'thank you tour,'" Miller said Friday in an interview. "He should be doing an apology tour. He should be apologizing to every teacher, every law enforcement official, every man, woman and child in South Carolina for being disrespectful to the president."

Wilson apologized to Obama after his Sept. 9 yell on prime-time TV, and the president accept his apology. The House of Representatives passed a "resolution of disapproval" reprimanding Wilson on Sept. 15, with Rep. Bob Inglis of Travelers Rest joining just six other Republican lawmakers in voting for it.

While Wilson appeared at several enthusiastic rallies in his district -- which stretches from the Midlands into the Lowcountry -- after his outburst, Miller held no public events. He also spoke with no reporters for three weeks, until breaking his silence Friday for the McClatchy interview.

Miller said he'd "been meeting with a lot of local leaders throughout the district," but he declined to identify them beyond saying that he'd "been out talking to business owners."

Miller also declined to explain why he'd stopped talking with reporters, though he indicated that the sudden national focus on his contest against Wilson might have caught him off guard.

"None of us ever imagined that our race would begin so early and on such a large scale," Miller said. "The game has changed. The campaign has changed."

Wilson, a retired Army National Guard colonel, and Miller, a former Marine Corps captain, aren't required to file third-quarter fundraising data with the Federal Election Commission until Oct. 15.

But veteran campaign operatives said the Wilson-Miller money totals through Sept. 30 certainly will exceed the $4 million spent by Democratic Rep. John Spratt of York and Republican Ralph Norman over the entire 24-month campaign cycle for their 2006 election, the highest combined total ever for a S.C. congressional race.

Within a week of Wilson's yell, the retired military lawyer said he had raised more than $2 million, while Miller claimed a fundraising haul in excess of $1.5 million. They've declined to disclose more recent figures.

That combined total of $3.5 million-plus from mid-September included only Internet donations. Contributions made online or mailed since then have driven the figure above $4 million, according to fund-raising experts in Washington with no ties to the Wilson or Miller campaigns.

A $4 million total through three quarters would put Wilson and Miller on pace to raise nearly $10.7 million over their whole campaign.

In the most expensive House race on record, incumbent Republican Rep. Jim Rogan and Democratic challenger Adam Schiff spent more than $11.5 million in their 2000 election.

That race, in which Rogan was voted out of office, was in a Southern California district based in Burbank, near Los Angeles, one of the nation's biggest and most expensive TV markets.

In ousting the incumbent, Schiff received 113,708 votes -- spending an astounding $101 per vote.

While serving in the U.S. House, Gov. Mark Sanford ran one of the cheapest campaigns in U.S. history, spending just $34,258 to win re-election in 1998.

Wilson, first sent to Congress in a December 2001 special election to replace the late Rep. Floyd Spence, and Miller, an Iraq War veteran, have more than doubled the nearly $1.8 million they raised in their first race.

Wilson defeated Miller by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin last November, by far the closest election result in his political career in the U.S. House and the S.C. Senate.

Now, in the wake of Wilson's "you lie!" cry, their 2010 election replay is getting national attention, with the Republican and Democratic national parties fully engaged.

Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, head of the "incumbent protection" initiative for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Wilson has emerged stronger politically from his "you lie!" episode.

"He went from 'safe' to 'solidly safe' in the (2010) election," Rogers said. "Joe has become the symbol of taking on this president when he's wrong on policy."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Wilson is in for the fight of his life.

"As a Marine and small-business owner, Rob Miller is a good fit for his district. By offering real solutions to the challenges facing South Carolina families, Rob gave Joe Wilson a run for his money last election. ... This time, Rob has the resources to fully engage South Carolinians in his campaign."

Money to burn

Thanks to Republican Rep. Joe Wilson's "you lie!" fame, his re-election contest with Democrat Rob Miller is already the most well-financed U.S. House race ever in South Carolina and could end up in the national Top 10:

2000 -- California District 27 ............... $11.54 million

2008 -- New York District 20 ............... 11.53 million

2002 -- W. Virginia District 2 ............... 11.35 million

2006 -- Florida District 13 ............... 11.12 million

2010 -- S.C. District 2 (projected) ............... 10.67 million

2000 -- Illinois District 10 ............... 10.02 million

2008 -- Illinois District 14 ............... 9.98 million

2000 -- W. Virginia District 2 ............... 9.68 million

2002 -- Maryland District 8 ............... 9.63 million

2006 -- Florida District 22 ............... 9.42 million

Source: FEC, Center for Responsive Politics

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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