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Joe Wilson House race in full swing

Six months after Rep. Joe Wilson accused President Obama of lying on national prime-time TV, his re-election bid against challenger Rob Miller has broken fundraising records and brought unprecedented national scrutiny to their race.

Wilson and Miller have likely raised a combined total of $6 million (updated campaign finance reports won't be filed for another month), blowing past the S.C. record for a U.S. House race - and on track to challenge the richest contests ever in the country.

Both men, though, are having some trouble dealing with the intense attention their rematch - Wilson defeated Miller by a 54-46 percent margin in 2008 - is drawing.

Wilson, a Springdale Republican, has traveled outside South Carolina more frequently than he said he would soon after his Sept. 9 "You lie!" yell at Obama, when he vowed to reject almost all requests from GOP groups and candidates seeking to cash in on his newfound fame.

Miller, a Beaufort Democrat, has run a stealth campaign, holding few public events and kicking a Columbia TV crew out of a recent speech to a group of Democrats.

Campaign of trips

Two weeks after his outburst, Wilson said he would limit his out-of-state trips to Michigan, Missouri and Virginia.

"I love traveling the country, but I love traveling the 2nd District more," Wilson said then.

Instead, Wilson has taken at least eight trips to New York, California, Georgia and beyond, sounding more like a sportsman on a victory lap than a contrite congressman who says Obama accepted his apology and "the incident" is over.

When Wilson campaigned in October for former Republican Rep. Tim Walberg to help him regain his lost House seat in Michigan, the Walberg campaign's invitation featured a photo of Wilson with the caption: "Stand for Truth."

Wilson recently acknowledged that he's taken more trips beyond South Carolina than he'd intended, but he said he makes superhuman efforts to keep them as short as possible and to return home as quickly as possible.

"They were virtually day trips," Wilson told McClatchy. "I'd go up in the evening and come right back to the district. I was in Michigan one night, I was back in Hilton Head the next afternoon, then I was in Springfield, Missouri, then I was right back in South Carolina."

Wilson, who's appeared via webcam and video feeds at other GOP rallies, said he skipped dinner on most of the trips in order to get home sooner.

"I would go straight to the event and then come right back to my district for district events because my focus is the 2nd District," he said. "I've declined dozens and dozens of other invitations."

But on at least one trip - to the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, Calif. - Wilson spent a leisurely three days in mid-November, addressing groups of conservative activists.

The tab for that trip came to $2,668.99, paid for by the Young America's Foundation, which runs the Reagan Ranch.

"I got to visit the actual Rancho del Cielo," Wilson told McClatchy afterward. "It's actually being preserved just as President and Mrs. Reagan left it - including their clothes in the closet, their books on the shelf and a baseball cap on the hook, the chainsaws in the garage and the riding lawnmower that they rode.

"Then I got to see the fencepost that President Reagan put together, and also a dock he built in a little lake. It was just awesome."

'From the ground up'

Miller, an Iraq War vet and former Marine Corps captain, says he regularly meets with people in the 2nd District he describes as "local business leaders" or "community leaders" or "church leaders."

Miller, though, refuses to identify them.

"We're building our campaign from the ground up," Miller told McClatchy on Thursday. "When this campaign truly gets going, we'll let you know."

As Miller explained his approach, it sounded more like a soldier's strategy than a politician's plan.

"We have to shape the battlefield," he said. "I am not going to engage Congressman Wilson at the time and place of his choosing. I am not going to engage the South Carolina Republican Party at the time and place of its choosing. We will lay the foundation, we will shape the battlefield, and then we will begin to roll out the Republicans, Democrats and independents who support us."

Miller said he didn't want to name his supporters because many of them are beholden to Wilson as their representative in Washington.

"Right now this early in the campaign, I'm unwilling to really put these small business owners and other supporters out on a limb," Miller said. "Right now, Congressman Wilson is the sitting congressman."

Miller's campaign manager, Lindsay Zoeller, said many of the unidentified supporters would eventually sign endorsement cards.

"In a race that's as contested as this one, when they have resources they need to get from Congress, we don't want to give backlash to them from Wilson's office," she said.

Miller has held some public events, though none of the scale of Wilson's big town hall rallies.

In recent weeks, Miller was introduced to congregants at the Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, enjoyed coffee with folks at a Starbucks in Bluffton and joined barbecue-lovers for lunch at Duke's in Ridgeland.

Miller said his supporters go well beyond Democrats.

"Don't assume anything," he said. "We did a private event in Beaufort a few weeks ago. We had 45 people attend. Fifteen of them were Republicans. Right now we're shaping the battlefield."

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