More than 43 percent of Southern Republicans liked it when U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina berated President Barack Obama as he addressed a joint session of Congress in September, according to a Winthrop University poll.
But about half of Southern Republicans - and large majorities of both independents and Democrats - either were opposed to or outraged by the outburst by the Lexington County Republican, which struck many as a rude affront to Southern sensibilities.
"It was stupid," said Charles Marshall, a 74-year-old retired marketing and sales representative who lives in Bluffton and backed Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
"He acted like a redneck," Marshall said of Wilson. "And I'm no elitist by any stretch of the imagination. He was appealing to the emotions of his constituency, and that's dumb."
Never miss a local story.
Wilson, from Springdale, apologized to Obama's chief of staff for his outburst. But he has made no apologies for the millions in campaign contributions that have poured in to him since he interrupted the president's speech with a shout of "You Lie!"
"A lot of people have contributed because Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and MoveOn.org have raised money for my opponent," Wilson said. "It was an understanding that I had become a target."
Winthrop's poll, which included questions asked exclusively for The State, showed almost 68 percent of independents - frequently a crucial swatch of the electorate - said they were opposed to Wilson's outburst. Overall, 30 percent of independents said they were opposed to and outraged by Wilson's actions.
Far fewer Southern Republicans - just over 11 percent - said they were outraged by Wilson's remark. But another 36 percent of Southern Republicans said they opposed Wilson's outburst.
Just under 65 percent of all those polled said they opposed Wilson's actions.
Nearly 30 percent of all poll participants said they not only opposed Wilson's actions, but were also outraged by them.
"I'm not sure if that was the right time to say that, whether you think Barack Obama is a great guy or not, out of respect for the president," said J. Chester Gambrell, a 57-year-old salesman who lives in Florence. "The man is president.
"I don't think he should have done that out of respect for the man in office."
Gambrell is a Republican who said he voted for Obama's opponent in the 2008 election, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Wilson's colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to reprimand him for shouting at the president.
But three weeks later, Wilson announced his re-election campaign had raised $2.7 million in the quarter. That figure was nearly three times the $1 million Wilson and his opponent, Democrat Rob Miller of Beaufort, collectively spent in their 2008 campaign.
"People understand that Congressman Wilson rightly apologized," said Karen Floyd, chairwoman of the S.C. Republican Party. "But there is fear and there is frustration. The little guy might see Congressman Wilson as a voice for them."
Wilson said he wants to put the incident behind him and "discuss the issues in a civil manner."
"I indicated my regret," he said. "I want to close the chapter of that book and close the discussion."
Wilson's remark has raised his profile across the country.
Immediately after the incident, fellow Republicans asked him to campaign with them. He also was used in Republican fundraising materials and has traveled the country speaking to conservative groups.
WHO LEADS GOP?
Still, neither Wilson nor anyone else fills what the Winthrop poll found to be a void at the top of the Republican Party.
Almost 58 percent of Southerners, geographically the GOP's most reliable bloc of voters, said they do not know or cannot think of anyone they would describe as the main person who speaks for the Republican Party's values and beliefs.
Some political observers - including some Democrats - say conservative media personalities, including Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, speak for the party.
But the poll results refute that notion.
Limbaugh is named by only 4.5 percent of Southerners as the main person who speaks for the GOP. Beck was named by fewer than 2.8 percent.
McCain was named more often than any other Republican figure.
In 2008, the 73-year-old McCain had to push back against claims, leveled by some, that he was too old to serve as president.
Those claims would be more forcefully made in the unlikely event McCain mounted a campaign to win the presidency in 2012.
Three figures seen as potential Republican 2012 candidates - former Govs. Sarah Palin of Alaska, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts - were named as leading the GOP by no more than 4.7 percent of all Southerners polled.
Among only self-identified Republicans, Palin was named by 7.2 percent of those polled.
Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, was named by 6.3 percent of those Republicans. Huckabee was the choice of 6 percent, and 3.4 percent named Romney.
The lack of a widely embraced GOP voice "helps you understand some of the inner struggles of the Republican Party," said Adolphus Belk, associate professor of political science at Winthrop University. "What it also says is radio and television personalities hold less sway than we might have thought.
"If you're a Republican and you're looking at this, there is an opportunity for someone to step in."
S.C. GOP chairwoman Floyd said there is plenty of time for that to happen.
"We're very, very early in the process for a presidential contender," she said. "There is a process for vetting candidates."
The Winthrop poll also found that, unless there is a shift in Southern views, opposition to the federal stimulus package could be an important plank for a Republican contender.
The poll - conducted in South Carolina and 10 other Southern states in late October and early November - showed Southerners in general are not sold on the stimulus package Obama signed into law.
More than 56 percent said the stimulus plan has helped their local communities very little or not at all. About 31 percent said the stimulus has helped their communities some or a great deal.
"The stimulus package, I don't think it's worked great," Florence's Gambrell said. "I don't think the benefits are there. I don't even see (benefits) down the road. Why not just take the thing and just give the people the money?
"They talked about roads and bridges and how we're going to have jobs. I don't see the jobs that are being created."
Belk said the views expressed by the 866 people polled indicate the Obama administration has fallen short in selling the benefits of the stimulus.
"If you're in the administration, part of the challenge is letting the American public know how the stimulus is working in local communities," Belk said.
"The opponents of the (stimulus) program have been very effective in laying out how they feel the stimulus program will add to the federal debt. That argument has gotten some traction."