U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson told members of the Hilton Head Island Republican Club on Sunday that he wants to "close the book on things that have happened in the past" -- hinting at his outburst during President Barack Obama's speech to Congress on health care reform -- and instead focus on health care and other issues facing the nation.
"I am the Democrats' number one target in the United States," Wilson said. "I want to thank you for your strong support. I'm so grateful for the people of Beaufort County."
Wilson spoke for about 30 minutes atop a wooden platform on playground equipment at Jarvis Creek Park where the Republican Club hosted a picnic and silent auction. Two gubernatorial candidates and other elected officials also spoke during the event.
The crowd of about 200 people appeared to support Wilson, whose outburst during Obama's speech has led to a flurry of supporters and opponents writing letters to the editor and also led to a flood of campaign contributions for Wilson and his Democrat opponent in the 2008 election, Rob Miller of Beaufort. Miller also intends to seek the seat in 2010.
Before his speech, Wilson told club members he had a "town hall moment" when he yelled out "you lie" after Obama said health care legislation would not provide coverage for illegal immigrants.
"I fully respect President Obama," Wilson said. "There is a right place and a right time to make your statement."
Wilson handed out "Let's Go Joe" stickers, while club members circled around and showered him with support. Many noted the array of signs for him at recent rallies and at the TEA Party March on Washington on Sept. 12.
He said that among his personal favorites were signs that said, "Joe Wilson, the Truth Tzar."
Of the constituents he's heard from since the incident, about 1 percent have been angry and 99 percent appreciative, he said.
Support is also flowing in from Republican colleagues, like U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota, who have called to say many of their constituents are backing him, Wilson said.
Representatives of the Michigan Republican Party called, Wilson said, to say they were raffling off Joe Wilson key chains.
Beaufort County Councilman Brian Flewelling drew one of the biggest laughs when he yelled "you lie" after Wilson said Flewelling had searched on eBay to see what he could get for his collection of Joe Wilson key chains and found them listed at $1.28 apiece.
Wilson is now touring his district, which includes Beaufort County, pushing for support of the Republican-generated health care reform plan. He called it a major improvement over Democrats' versions.
He said the Democrats' plans would squeeze billions of dollars from Medicaid and Medicare funds, destroy jobs, raise taxes and cause millions to lose their coverage.
"We know this will happen: fewer choices for patients and rationing," Wilson said.
The Republicans' version, he argued, would make coverage affordable for patients with pre-existing conditions, ensure Americans can buy insurance across state lines and promote a system where small businesses can band together to purchase and provide affordable health care options for their employees.
"You should be proud as Republicans that we have a good bill," he said.
Barbara Burke of Hilton Head Island called Wilson's leadership "refreshing."
"It's an honor to have him stand up for me," she said after the speech.