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Mark Sanford, now Joe Wilson: What's in the water in South Carolina?

September 11, 2009 |  8:22 am

Rep. Joe Wilson calls President Obama a liar on floor of the House during a speech on health care reform Sept. 9, 2009

Is there something in the water in the Palmetto state?

True, Republican John McCain carried the state over Democrat Barack Obama,  59% to 37%, in the 2008 election.

But opposition to the Democratic White House seems to have reached fever pitch there.

First Republican Sen. Jim DeMint urged fellow conservatives to "break" President Obama by making his healthcare reform a Waterloo in his presidency, defeating him and his ideas with a big fat congressional rejection.

Then came Gov. Mark Sanford. Even before his infamous fling with a mistress in Argentina that saw him go AWOL from the governor's mansion and prompted aides to perpetuate a fabricated story about his hiking in the Appalachian Trail, the governor had a political moment in the sun. The onetime presidential aspirant made headlines in February by threatening to reject Obama's stimulus package money. Even the Legislature balked at that one.

Now comes Joe Wilson, the former Marine and six-term congressman who until Thursday was an obscure back-bencher. After his unprecedented outburst Wednesday night -- calling Obama a liar from the floor of the House -- he apologized. As Ticket reported, he also cut an ad asking supporters to send money to his cause. Because, as the Ticket also reported, Democrats have been sending lots of money to his rival, Rob Miller. In fact by this morning ActBlue's efforts have sent more than $700,000 to Miller's campaign coffers.

But the truth is that while South Carolinians may cringe at Wilson's rudeness -- for which he apologized -- they cheer his position. "South Carolina is a state that's always loved having characters for politicians," Bruce Haynes, a GOP political consultant, told Politico.

In a string that goes back to John C. Calhoun and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, politics in South Carolina is as revered a sport as football, said former Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges. "In most places, they play the sport of politics every two or four years," he told politico. "In South Carolina, they play it every year."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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