Originally created 08/25/04

Congressman visits Wagener to gather small-town support



WAGENER, S.C. - U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson swooped through the far eastern reaches of Aiken County on Tuesday to drum up re-election support in the tiny sliver of the county he represents.

The congressman stormed through town on foot, making stops at a convenience store and restaurant, a bank and the popular Tyler Brothers Hardware store at the center of town.

Accompanied by an entourage of campaign staff and state leaders, Mr. Wilson shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with several townspeople, but didn't commit much time to extended dialogue on serious issues.

"Whatever I can do here, let me know," Mr. Wilson told one resident.

Even though Mr. Wilson's representation of Aiken County is limited to the towns of Wagener, Perry, Salley and the vast rural reaches around them, he also represents a large chunk of Barnwell County.

That means he works hand in hand with fellow Republicans U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, who represents the majority of Aiken County, to support Savannah River Site.

Mr. Wilson pointed out that he worked as deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy in 1981 and 1982 and later tried personnel security cases for SRS at the federal courthouse in Aiken.

"That experience has been very helpful to me" when supporting SRS in Congress, Mr. Wilson said.

The West Columbia resident was elected to his 2nd District seat in a 2001 special election to replace the late Floyd Spence.

He faces Democratic challenger Michael Ray Ellisor in the November general election.

Mr. Wilson was scheduled to continue campaigning today into Barnwell County and into the southern end of his district that runs to Beaufort County on the coast.

The congressman's nine-county district represents myriad demands, from the fast-paced growth in Lexington County to the slow-growth, no-growth or gradual decline of rural towns such as Wagener.

Wagener has struggled to attract new industry, and its population still hovers just under 1,000 people. Still, residents say Mr. Wilson has listened to their demands.

"It's an uphill battle," Wagener Town Councilman Mike Miller said. "We're in the poor end of the county. He understands that."

Mr. Wilson's bus tour of his district is supposed to culminate Thursday in Bluffton.

His campaign handlers said they'd be making stops at as many small towns as possible along the way.

"He tries real hard to keep a presence in any part of the district he represents," said Troy McCurry, a member of Mr. Wilson's campaign team.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.