WASHINGTON -- The returns are in: Two words -- you lie! -- are worth over $2 million apiece.
Republican Rep. Joe Wilson and Democratic challenger Rob Miller raised a total of nearly $4.4 million through Sept. 30 in their 2nd Congressional District rematch.
Fourteen months before voters go to the polls, the Wilson-Miller contest is already the richest U.S. House race ever in South Carolina.
Wilson, of Lexington, collected $2.7 million from 50,000 campaign contributions, almost all of it after his now-famous "you lie!" yell Sept. 9 as President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on prime-time TV.
Miller, of Beaufort, gathered $1.69 million in donations from 44,000 people in the first three quarters of the year, most of it also following Wilson's outburst.
The two campaigns were to report their third-quarter fund-raising hauls by midnight Thursday to the Federal Election Commission. Aides released the figures before the filing deadline.
The updated figures mean that the Wilson-Miller campaign has blown past the $4 million that Democratic Rep. John Spratt and Republican challenger Ralph Norman combined to spend in 2000.
"I'm honored by the outpouring of support I've received," Miller told McClatchy late Thursday. "This just reaffirms that we are now in a great position to really talk with voters about South Carolina issues."
Preston Grisham, Wilson's campaign manager, said the nation's most powerful Democrats want to bring him down.
"It's a shame (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and her liberal allies are trying to raise millions to attack Joe Wilson in South Carolina for standing up against big-government policies that hurt our economy," Grisham said. "That won't fly here."
Wilson, a retired Army National Guard colonel as a military lawyer, defeated Miller by a 54-46 percent margin last November in the closest election of Wilson's political career in the S.C. Senate and the U.S. House.
Now, thanks to the "you lie" attention drawn to their campaign, the two men raised more than $4 million in the 21 days after Wilson's yell -- an astounding $190,000-plus per day.
Robert Oldendick, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, said the two rivals' fund-raising haul so early in their rematch astounded him.
"I'm shocked," he said. "There was an initial reaction (to Wilson's outburst), it got a lot of national publicity, but I thought it would die down."
Oldendick said the fallout from the whole episode has made the Wilson-Miller campaign a national race and tapped into bitter partisan conflicts among Americans.
"It's opening up a deeper set of underlying divisions, both in the Second District and between the two parties," he said. "This is now one of the most visible races in the country."
Miller, an Iraq war veteran and former Marine Corps captain, said he's not intimidated by Wilson's $2.7 million haul.
"We always knew that Congressman Wilson's special-interest friends were going to come through for him," Miller said. "I'm focused on South Carolina."
Wilson and Miller combined to spend $1.78 million over the 24-month campaign cycle for their 2008 contest.
Miller, though, said he spent half of his $614,487 in total expenditures during a grueling Democratic primary campaign, in which he defeated Blaine Lotz.
Miller said Wilson outspent him by a 5-1 margin in the general election campaign, but he won't have that advantage this time.
"I have a great opportunity to reach out to every household in the Second District and talk personally with people on the ground," Miller said.