COLUMBIA --- Conservatives in U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's district are facing facts: They're angry that he voted for the 2008 Wall Street bailout, but they know opposing him could send his Democratic opponent to Congress.
Exhibit A is GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, who declared in April that Wilson should "absolutely not" get another term but said Thursday she now supports his re-election.
"This is about electing the most conservative candidate," Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said. "In November, Congressmen Wilson is clearly the most conservative of those two candidates."
Wilson, now known for shouting "you lie" last year while President Obama was addressing Congress, is in a rematch against Democrat Rob Miller.
Wilson beat him two years ago with 54 percent of the vote, and this year's contest is one of the nation's most expensive U.S. House races, mostly because of the money that poured in to both him and Miller after Wilson taunted Obama. Wilson's most recent campaign finance report, filed May 19, shows he's raised nearly $4 million while Miller has raised nearly $2.4 million. Their next reports are due next week.
Jane Kenny, organizer of the Tea Party Patriots of Bluffton at the foot of Wilson's district near Beaufort and Hilton Head Island, said tea party activists are unhappy about Wilson's bailout vote.
But, she said, "at this point in time we have a choice between Mr. Miller and Mr. Wilson. Mr. Miller is telling us he supports the Obama agenda, so by default, Wilson is our man."
As for the bailout, formally called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, Wilson said votes were gathered as banks were on the verge of failing and legislators were told the money would be used much like the 1980s federal thrift rescue plan. But, he said, it morphed into something that he never supported, including forcing banks to become partly government owned.
It is remembered now as the bank bailout that bypassed main streets and made Wall Street wealthier as it sparked a series of big spending measures -- including car and mortgage incentives, state spending bailouts, federal stimulus projects and the national health care overhaul.
Haley, in an April interview with The Associated Press, said it touched off an avalanche of spending. When asked whether any member of Congress who voted for it should be re-elected, Haley said: "No. Absolutely not."
What about Joe Wilson? "Absolutely not," said Haley, a three-term state representative who lives in Wilson's district, which he has represented since 2001.
Wilson said voters should look at everything he's done.
"It's my view that they should look at my whole record," he said.