There's a lot of money in the words "You lie." Since now-famous GOP Rep. Joe Wilson shouted them at Barack Obama during the president's speech to Congress last month, the 2nd Congressional District rematch between Wilson and Democratic challenger Rob Miller has become the richest U.S. House race ever in South Carolina. And this is more than a year before the actual election.
Reports from McClatchy newspapers
detail the political and financial developments since Wilson's Sept. 9 outburst. Wilson, of Springdale, collected $2.7 million from 50,000 campaign contributions; Miller, of Beaufort, attracted $1.69 million from 44,000 contributors. Though the numbers take in the first three-quarters of the fiscal year, most of the money to both candidates was gathered following Wilson's "You lie" moment, and most of the latest donors came from outside South Carolina (77 percent for Wilson and 86 percent for Miller).
According to finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission, in the 24 hours after Wilson's yell, thousands of people from 50 states contributed a total of almost $400,000 to each of the campaigns.
The McClatchy report
quoted Charles Bierbauer, dean of the School of Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina-Columbia: "The magnetic power of those two words is astonishing. The polarizing aspect of Wilson's outburst has attracted both those who support him and those who now seek to depose him."
While both Wilson and Miller have benefited, each has reacted differently to the media spotlight and the financial windfalls that have followed.
After Wilson's initial (though hardly heartfelt) apology, he has traveled to rallies and town halls throughout his district, enjoying enthusiastic receptions from supporters. "I am grateful to have the support of over 50,000 people from across South Carolina and the United States," the former military lawyer and retired Army National Guard colonel said in a statement. "People in America are very concerned about the future of this country and want their leaders in Washington to stand up for them."
Miller -- an Iraq War veteran and former Marine Corps captain -- told McClatchy that the national attention and financial backing won't change his focus on creating jobs, modernizing infrastructure and championing economic development in his district. "My focus was South Carolina last campaign when nobody knew about us, and my focus is South Carolina now," he said. "We actually have the ability [thanks to the increased funds] to create a professional, focused campaign. I'll be reaching out to every household and talking with folks about getting a representative who will actually represent South Carolina."
In their 2008 contest, the closest election of Wilson's political career in the S.C. Senate and the U.S. House, Wilson beat Miller, 54 percent to 46 percent. The candidates' combined campaign expenses? Less than $1.8 million.
No doubt other congressional back-benchers who now realize how profitable a polarizing moment can be are polishing up their own spontaneous expressions of outrage.