COLUMBIA, S.C. _ Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., may have shouted his way into the toughest election fight of his life.
Just ask former Sen. George Allen of Virginia, a GOP conservative darling who suffered a surprise defeat in 2006 after calling an Indian-American campaign worker "macaca" _ an ethnic slur in some countries. Or Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, a Democrat who was tossed out the same year after striking a police officer who tried to make her show identification before entering the Capitol complex.
Voters often frown on rude conduct, and Democrats would like nothing more to have Wilson's scalp in 2010 _ not just to win another seat, but to hold up the victory as evidence that even the conservative South rejects the town-hall style vitriol that President Barack Obama is facing.
Of course, a decisive Wilson victory could also show the opposite: that voters in his South Carolina district are angry over Obama's policies and support Wilson's message, if not his style.
What's clear is that the race will be one of the most closely watched of the midterm cycle, with money now gushing in from all over the country. The normally low-key Wilson will be in the spotlight as never before.
"It's actually boosted Joe's popularity among folks who agree with him," said Danielle Vinson, a political scientist at Furman University. But Vinson said it could cause problems for Wilson with voters who are transplants to South Carolina.
"This particularly will stick in their minds because they're still talking to friends and family who live elsewhere, and for them, this has been an embarrassment," she said.
About a quarter of Wilson's constituents are African-Americans, a voting bloc that has overwhelmingly supported Obama and is not likely to approve of his insult.
A little-known backbencher until recently, Wilson has generally had an easy time winning re-election. But there was evidence that he might be a rare Southern Republican vulnerable to defeat even before he became a household name for yelling "You lie" during the president's speech to Congress about health care reform.
His victory last November with 54 percent of the vote over first-time Democratic candidate Rob Miller raised red flags. While the 8 percentage-point margin over Miller was still significant in an unusually pro-Democratic election environment, Wilson's tally was far weaker than the 60 percent to 70 percent showings that Republicans routinely post in the South. And Wilson's election results over the last four cycles show a consistent downward trend, from 84 percent in 2002 to 63 percent in 2006 and a low point last year.
Read the full story at thestate.com.