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Miller fights lockout claim

Democrat Rob Miller, running against Republican Rep. Joe Wilson for the second time, has been subject to attacks from national and state Republican groups in a sign of the widespread interest in their campaign.

A semi-public meeting last month ended in controversy amid a slew of charges and countercharges among Miller's campaign, Midlands Democrats, a local TV station and Republican operatives in Washington and Columbia.

Miller spoke to about 50 people at a Feb. 18 dinner hosted by the Irmo Democratic Club at Zorba's Greek Restaurant in Columbia.

WIS-TV reported that night that Miller had asked its camera crew to leave because he didn't want his speech to be videotaped.

Within 24 hours, the National Republican Campaign Committee had e-mailed political reporters nationwide a release chortling: "Liberal Yes-Man Rob Miller kicks reporter out of event."

Miller vehemently denied that claim Thursday.

"I've never ejected anybody from any campaign event, and my staff has never ejected anybody from any campaign event," Miller told McClatchy.

WIS-TV anchor Judi Gatson, who'd reported the incident, said Miller issued the same denial in an interview recorded Thursday.

E-mails sent the night of his talk and the next day, which were obtained by McClatchy, contradict Miller.

At midnight, just a few hours after the event, Bill Salter, treasurer of the Irmo Democratic Club, sent an apologetic e-mail to Gatson.

"I was unaware that the [Miller] campaign wouldn't allow the taping of Mr. Miller's speech until they complained," Salter wrote. "I personally disagree with this stance."

The next day, WIS-TV executive producer Jason Old sent an e-mail to his colleagues, saying he'd received a phone call from Jim Nelson, president of the Irmo Democratic Club.

"Jim called to apologize on behalf of the club," Old told his co-workers. "He said he tried to talk Rob Miller's people into letting us record the speech. He called because he hopes we don't hold this incident against the club."

But in a weird twist, others besides Miller may end up with egg on their faces.

After the TV crew left, Salter told McClatchy, several Democrats confronted a young man who was trying surreptitiously to videotape Miller's talk.

Confronted over his behavior, Salter said, the young man identified himself as a University of South Carolina student named Brandon. He said the S.C. Republican Party had paid him to attend Miller's talk, record it and try to embarrass the candidate, Salter said.

An account of the incident is online at www.lexingtondemocrats.org/dem_irmo.html.

Joel Sawyer, executive director of the S.C. Republican Party, flatly denied the allegation Friday.

"I have never seen that person, and he is not paid by the state party," Sawyer said.

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