Politics & Government

Former Marine off to fast start in S. Carolina House race

WASHINGTON — Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican who has faced little opposition since joining the House in 2001, could face a stiff challenge in November.

Rob Miller, a retired Marine Corps captain who served twice in Iraq and left the Marines to run against Wilson, raised more than $147,351 in just five weeks this year — a strong showing for a political novice.

Miller, 33, will face Blaine Lotz, a 64-year-old retired Air Force colonel and decorated Vietnam War veteran, in the June 10 Democratic primary. Lotz raised $37,286 in the first three months of 2008, according to new campaign-disclosure figures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Wilson raised $83,510 in the first three months of 2008, ending the quarter with $255,766 in his campaign coffers.

In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Lindsey Graham raised $502,344 in the first quarter of the year and has almost $4.8 million in his campaign war chest — among the largest of the 33 senators up for re-election.

Miller and Lotz say Wilson, who heads the Victory in Iraq Caucus in the House, has been a cheerleader for bad Bush administration policies in the war.

"Joe Wilson and the administration politically have failed our military and failed the Iraqis," Miller, a Charleston native who lives in Beaufort, said Wednesday in an interview. "We need a sensible exit strategy in Iraq so we can start investing in America."

Lotz, of Hilton Head, said Wilson "has defaulted in his responsibility to exercise independent judgment and has obediently and unquestioningly supported the failed policies of the Bush administration."

Wilson, seeking his fifth House term, said he would respond to such criticism when he knows who his general election foe will be after the June 10 primary.

"Everybody has the right to run," Wilson said Wednesday. "Good people can disagree. I believe I have a record that merits re-election."

Wilson faces token opposition in the Republican primary. Phil Black, a Lexington land developer, has raised negligible amounts of money and loaned his campaign $10,000.

It's ironic that Wilson's likely opponent will be a former military officer.

Wilson retired as a colonel after serving 28 years in the Army National Guard and three years in the Army Reserve. His four sons have all seen military service.

Miller had two deployments to Iraq, seeing combat duty in Mosul, Haditha, Fallujah and other battle sites in the first two years of the war.

Miller said his Iraq combat duty convinced him that the war's high cost -- currently $12 billion a month -- is funded by money that should be spent back home in the United States.

"The battles we're fighting in Iraq, we need to be fighting them here," Miller said in the interview. "We need to be fighting for safer neighborhoods, more jobs and quality healthcare."

Miller said Wilson shares responsibility for ballooning government spending with Bush as president and the Republicans in control of Congress until the 2006 elections.

"He's been up in Washington for a while, and he's become part of the problem," Miller said. "He blocks ethics reform, he doesn't really support the troops when it counts and he's voted for record deficits and out-of-control spending."

Wilson first won the 2nd Congressional District seat in a special election after Rep. Floyd Spence died in August 2001. He hasn't faced a well-funded opponent in recent races.

Michael Ellisor, a Lexington Democrat, raised less than $13,000 in his campaigns in 2004 and 2006. Wilson got 63 percent of the vote in the November 2006 contest.

Wilson, who served in the General Assembly before joining Congress, said he has accumulated a donor base of 4,000 people.

"I have never taken an election for granted," Wilson said. "Whatever campaign my opponents put together, we will match them and top them."