The first time I met Rob Miller, he was still a captain in the United States Marine Corps. He was having breakfast at the Capital City Club with Samuel Tenenbaum and Bud Ferillo. They were talking with him about his plan to leave the Corps and run for Congress in the 2nd District. He was in civvies — a blue blazer and conservative tie, as I recall — but he was marked as a Marine by two things: His head was shaved, and he compulsively called every man he addressed “sir” in a way that made you feel like he was just barely containing himself from saluting. (Marines always do this, and I find it disconcerting. I’m a lousy civilian; I should be calling them “sir,” not the other way around.)
When next I met him, a few months later, his hair had just started to grow out, and he was both a civilian and a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District. About all I knew about him was that he had been a Marine, he was a combat veteran, having served two tours in Iraq, and he was Bobby Hitt’s nephew (I had worked for Bobby when he was managing editor of The State in the late 80s) — and that some prominent Democrats had taken an interest in his campaign, at least to some extent.
Other than that, he was a blank slate for me, so this interview did a lot to form my impression of him as a candidate. It was not a strong impression. I did not feel like he was ready to run for this office. He seemed uncertain in talking about why he was running, and had to grope for answers to questions that simply asked him to elaborate on what he had said in his opening remarks. He had this trouble in spite of having a little notebook with him, to which he repeatedly referred.
Now, in complete fairness to Capt. Miller: This was very early in his transition to civilian life. I thought he seemed more poised and confident later in the campaign, such as in the October debate with Joe Wilson that I helped moderate. (The header photo above is from that event.) Unfortunately, the link to that video no longer seems to work, and I lost everything that I had put on my laptop in September and October of that year when my laptop was stolen (although I don’t think I had anything on him from that period anyway). So the one thing I have to refer back to is this video from May of that year.
We did not endorse Capt. Miller in the primary, which is what this interview was about. We endorsed Blaine Lotz, who had had a somewhat more extensive military career than the captain (he had retired from the Air Force as a colonel), and a far greater grasp of national security issues — after the Air Force, he had a distinguished civilian career at the Pentagon specializing in intelligence, and in 1998 he was appointed by Secretary of Defense Cohen to be Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight. Of course, he was still in that position under Donald Rumsfeld, for which S.C. Democrats were apparently unwilling to forgive him. Or maybe they didn’t even know that; he didn’t seem to get as much exposure in the campaign as did Capt. Miller. In any case, Miller won.
Even though he made a better impression in the fall, we still did what many of you will no doubt consider unforgivable — we endorsed Joe Wilson. It was a tepid endorsement, but an endorsement all the same. In that same editorial, we also endorsed Jim Clyburn (also unenthusiastically) and John Spratt (wholeheartedly). An excerpt:
Newcomer Rob Miller seems poised to give incumbent Joe Wilson a real contest this year. The Democrat is an ex-Marine, an Iraq combat veteran and a member of a prominent South Carolina family (his uncle used to be managing editor of this newspaper). He seemed uncertain about issues in the primary campaign, but still managed to beat a former Air Force general [I don’t know where that came from, since his bio online says he retired as a colonel] with an impressive resume. He has gained confidence in the intervening months with an aggressive, populist, anti-establishment message. Combine that with the Obama Effect, and you have a candidate with a chance.
But we endorse Republican Wilson, who demonstrates a greater command of the issues, and is much more attuned to the wishes of voters in the district’s gravitational center, Lexington County. Yes, he’s a hyper-Republican, and we’d like to see a less partisan candidate with competitive credentials. But Rep. Wilson is a hard-working, earnest representative who is truly devoted to serving his district and his country, and voters will be better served to re-elect him.
In the 6th District, we see both strong similarities and a stark difference. The similarity is that the incumbent, Jim Clyburn, is just as partisan as Mr. Wilson, and much more successful at it — he’s the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, the majority whip. It’s his job to line up votes for Speaker Nancy Pelosi; he takes the job seriously and does it well.
Where this district, which runs from Richland County through the Pee Dee and down the I-95 corridor, differs from the 2nd is in the fact that Mr. Clyburn is strongly supported in every part of it. He is closely attuned to his district’s wants and needs, and passionately devoted to serving its people. Consequently, he faces weak opposition in Republican Nancy Harrelson, who is running on a populist platform in some ways similar to Mr. Miller’s.
We endorse Mr. Clyburn, a highly experienced and savvy public servant who is clearly better qualified.
By the way, about that reference to “a populist platform in some ways similar to Mr. Miller’s” — while he seemed more confident and polished by the fall, the persona he had adopted was that of the somewhat ticked-off champion of the common man, which was sufficiently at odds with his previously self-effacing junior-officer demeanor that it seemed contrived. At least, that’s the way I remember it. I wish I could find that video to check my memory.
Anyway, my point in sharing all this is to answer the question that a couple of folks have asked, which is, what do I mean when I say Rob Miller was unimpressive, and that I’m distressed that Joe Wilson’s outburst has now put so much money in his campaign coffers that it seems no other, stronger challenger is likely to emerge?
Again, I offer the caveat that this video is from very early, but this is how I initially formed my impression of Rob Miller. After that my impression was modified, but not entirely. Bottom line, I think it’s a lousy situation that here we are in the market for a replacement for Joe Wilson — a moment in which a challenger might have a chance — and the flood of money to Rob Miller (because he happened to be the guy standing there at the time) has probably precluded the possibility of a stronger candidate emerging.
See what you think.