There’s a reason Rob Miller is hiding. He doesn’t want you to know that he’ll just be another big government drone.
Government-run health care.
Bad energy policy.
That’s what you’ll get from Rob Miller. A cat doesn’t have his tongue. The Washington liberals do. Don’t let the Move On and Act Blue teams take South Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District for Washington style extreme liberal policies. Get involved today with Congressman Joe Wilson’s reelection campaign.
By Alex Isenstadt
October 22, 2009
For a high-profile campaign, Democrat Rob Miller is taking a surprisingly low-profile approach.
In the month since his opponent, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), shouted, “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during a nationally televised joint session of Congress — thus attracting national attention to what was otherwise expected to be a sleepy race — Miller hasn’t done much to capitalize on his newfound fame.
While close to $2 million in contributions from outraged Democrats has poured into his campaign coffers, Miller has yet to hold a town hall, rally or public event of any kind. He hasn’t even been in touch with local party officials in one of the two most populous counties in the district.
In fact, he has studiously avoided the spotlight, instead spending his time fundraising and highlighting his military record in what his campaign describes as a series of small, private meet-and-greet events with business and community leaders throughout South Carolina’s 2nd District. On Monday, Miller huddled with Democratic leaders in his home base of Beaufort County.
It’s a strategy, his backers say, that’s dictated by the nature of the conservative-minded, Columbia-area district — one that favored John McCain over Obama by a healthy 54 percent to 45 percent.
Even as he reaps the fundraising benefits of his sudden national profile, he must be cautious to put some distance between his campaign and the national liberal voices that have made Wilson a poster boy for fringe conservatism.
“The challenge tends to be the same for any Democrat running in a Deep Southern state,” said Jeff Liszt, the Alabama-based pollster who is advising Miller. “You have to build a dynamic that is different from the national Democratic dynamic.”
In an interview with POLITICO, Miller, an Iraq war vet who suffered an 8-percentage-point loss to Wilson in 2008, said he had been “appalled” and “embarrassed” by Wilson’s behavior.
But he didn’t miss a beat when asked if the outburst would become a centerpiece of his campaign.
“This campaign is about South Carolina,” Miller said. “The debate will be about what is happening in South Carolina.”
Asked if he planned to run TV ads hitting Wilson for the outburst, Miller was even more direct.
“I can’t see that happening,” he replied.
Tom Jensen, a pollster with the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, said Miller had been smart to stay away from public events, where inevitably he would have been asked about Wilson’s outburst and where he risked being too closely associated with other Wilson critics.
“I think he’s very right to lay low,” said Jensen. “The last thing he needs next year is for Republicans to attack him for being next to liberal figures.”
“If he is smart, you will hear little about the Joe Wilson incident. He’s going to want to run a South Carolina campaign,” said Jensen, who last month conducted a survey that found Miller within striking distance of Wilson in the aftermath of the incident. “The only way you win in that district is to come across as a conservative.”
Miller’s avoidance of public events over the past month is sharply at odds with the path Wilson has chosen.
Just one day after Obama’s speech, in response to the outcry, Wilson released a fiery campaign video promising that he would not be “muzzled” by his critics. And over the past five weeks, Wilson has held a handful of campaign rallies across the state, not to mention several congressional town hall events, telling audiences that while he was wrong to have interrupted the president’s speech, he will continue to speak up on the issue of health care. This weekend, he is set to make an appearance at the South Carolina State Fair in Columbia.
“He’s been all over the place,” said Wilson’s campaign manager, Preston Grisham.
Some Democrats would like to see Miller take a more aggressive approach and fear he is squandering a prime opportunity.
Kathy Hensley, who chairs the Lexington County Democratic Party, said she was surprised that Miller had not yet contacted or, to her knowledge, made any appearances in her county — even though it is the second-biggest in the district in terms of voter registration.
“I would have expected him to have an office in the county and for him to have contacted a few certain people in the county,” said Hensley. “It’s very disappointing for me not to see some activity on his part.”
“It’s nice to have someone like Rob up for election, but I’m not sure he knows how to run a campaign,” she said.
Don Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who headed up the South Carolina Democratic Party for a time, said the Wilson furor had provided Miller with the rare chance to pick up support from moderate and conservative military-minded voters who had recoiled from the episode.
“You have to take the fight to [Wilson], and you have to be very aggressive about it,” he said.
But asked if Miller had done that, Fowler said, “Not yet.”
Fowler was quick to note that Miller had nevertheless already seen significant gains from the fallout, with the Public Policy Polling survey showing Miller just barely trailing Wilson, 44 percent to 43 percent in September. And he said there was still time to engage Wilson about his remarks.
“If you took a poll now, Joe Wilson is still ahead, but Rob Miller is much closer,” noted Fowler. “There are a lot of Republicans who will vote for Rob Miller because they are so offended by Joe Wilson.”
“I do believe there are a lot of moderates and even conservatives who believe it was extremely rude,” said Trav Robertson, who directed Obama’s South Carolina general election campaign. “I think there is going to be a time to engage him.”
For his part, Miller says he’s not worried about losing the moment.
“We’re going to take the time, as we say in the Marine Corps, to prep the battlefield,” he said.