U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's infamous "You lie!" outburst has paid off handsomely for the Lexington Republican.
Wilson announced Thursday he has raised $2.7 million in the quarter. That's nearly $1 million more than Wilson and his opponent collectively spent during his 2008 re-election. And it's a figure political observers think puts Wilson in the running to have the most lucrative fundraising quarter of any member of Congress.
Wilson and his presumed Democratic opponent Rob Miller are on track to have the most expensive congressional race in S.C. history. Within this quarter, they will easily surpass the $4 million Republican Ralph Norman and U.S. Rep. John Spratt spent in their 2006 race.
"I think Joe has seen an opportunity and managed to tap into it," said Republican strategist Chip Felkel of Greenville. Expect an expensive, hard-fought race now that big money and national interest have poured in, Felkel said.
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Wilson became a household name after he yelled "You lie!" to President Barack Obama during a nationally televised joint session of Congress last month. It was enough to get him lampooned on "Saturday Night Live" and officially rebuked by his U.S. House colleagues. Wilson apologized to Obama and said he regretted the incident.
Still, to some Wilson is a hero for standing up the president. Support for Wilson can be seen in the Midlands and elsewhere on T-shirts that say "I'm standing with Joe." Wilson's campaign said he has had about 50,000 donors this quarter, with money pouring in from all over the country.
"It has been a humbling honor to have this support from my constituents and the American people," Wilson said in a statement. "At town hall meetings in the 2nd (Congressional) District of South Carolina and across America, people are not merely asking questions, they are demanding answers."
S.C. Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Fowler said Wilson's contributors aren't all from people whose only concern is health care reform.
"Those 50,000 contributors haven't all been at town hall meetings," Fowler said. "They are right wing extremists who hate this president and who think it's OK to do what Congressman Wilson did."
The incident has been a boon to Democrats, too. Miller, a Beaufort businessman, had raised $1.5 million within days of the incident. Miller's campaign said Thursday it would release his fundraising total for the quarter closer to next week's Oct. 15 deadline.
Miller, who has been raising money in Washington, D.C., and has perhaps raised as much money as any congressional challenger in the country this quarter, still could find himself lagging behind Wilson once final fundraising numbers are in.
Fowler said that's not an automatic disadvantage for Miller, who she expects to run a better race than last year, when he lost to Wilson by eight points.
"If you're competing dollar for dollar, Democrats are always behind," Fowler said.
With bigger budgets, Felkel said, the district, which stretches from Lexington County east to Beaufort, could be bombarded with TV ads that will be easily affordable by both campaigns. More money also will allow for better production quality in broadcast and Internet ads, as well as target marketing to drive home messages tailored to a variety of interest groups.
Wilson's handling of his turn in the spotlight has worked out as well as can be expected, Felkel said.
Wilson immediately apologized to Obama and admitted his mistake, but he did not allow himself to become a "whipping boy" for Democrats. That, Felkel said, allowed Wilson to turn the incident into a positive for him
"He never changed his story," Felkel said. "He apologized for the (lack of decorum) but he never said he was wrong for opposing the president and health care reform."
Wilson is continuing to rail against the health care plans in Congress.
"Americans understand that these are times of great consequence," Wilson said in the statement thanking supporters for his fundraising haul. "The change we were promised is not the change that has been delivered. We have a choice: We can sit back and watch, or we can stand up and act."