COLUMBIA, S.C. — Signs that a fierce struggle is under way for the soul of South Carolina's 2nd Congressional District are everywhere.
Democratic challenger Rob Miller is taking the most aggressive and focused fight to U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson the four-term incumbent Republican has ever faced.
Miller, a 37-year-old former Marine captain who led two combat missions in Iraq, is shaping his 2010 bid to unseat Wilson around a ripening theme: Wilson is in Congress to cash in.
"I think Congressman Wilson has gone Washington," Miller said in a recent interview, meaning he thinks Wilson is "upside down" in his understanding of what a representative is elected to do.
"I think he represents everything that's wrong in Washington," said Miller, careful always to convey respect for the office. " Whatever his intentions were when he went there, he now puts party politics over South Carolina. He puts his contributors over South Carolina. And I think that's the cycle we need to break."
Miller is a Charleston native who grew up in South Carolina and graduated from private, Catholic Bishop England High School, where students today pay up to $10,000 a year to attend.
He describes himself as an underachieving student then, who would make his way to the College of Charleston only to enlist in the Marines after his freshman year.
The Marines provided Miller with discipline, a degree and a yearning to serve his country.
In 2008, Miller took his first dive into politics fresh off a 13-year military stint that began at boot camp in Parris Island in 1995.
Miller launched his first campaign for Wilson’s seat almost immediately after leaving the Marine Corps. He ran beyond expectations in 2008, falling a little less than 26,000 votes short of Wilson’s and gaining 46 percent of the vote.
“I left the Marine Corps to not only be with my family, but to serve my country in a different way,” said Miller, leaning back from coffee recently at a Lizard’s Thicket restaurant in Columbia. “And that’s through serving South Carolina, running for the 2nd District.”
Miller and his wife, Shane, both from Charleston, now live in Beaufort County. They run a business selling military memorabilia that does most of its transactions on the Internet.
Both the Millers have connections to S.C. political stalwarts.
Rob Miller’s grandfather was a first cousin to the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, and Shane Miller’s father is a first cousin to state Sen. Glenn McConnell of Charleston, who is president pro tempore of the S.C. Senate.
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