Joe Cunningham's 1st District re-election seen as "Toss Up" in early 2020 congressional analysis

Cunningham won in 2018 by less than 4,000 votes

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RUTA SMITH FILE
  • Ruta Smith file
The Cook Political Report, one of a handful of influential election rankings, sees Congressman Joe Cunningham's first re-election shot as a "toss-up" for the freshman Democrat.

Members of Congress must raise thousands of dollars every day to have enough money to run a competitive re-election campaign. That's a tough task for even veteran politicians, but can be made even harder for first-term legislators fending off a challenge in a closely matched district.

Cunningham became the first Democrat elected to represent the 1st Congressional District since the 1980s in November, when he beat Republican lawmaker Katie Arrington by less than 4,000 votes. Arrington had spent some time in the S.C. House, but both candidates were still relatively new to politics and many voters went to the polls in 2018 looking for change, a factor that helped Cunningham to victory.



The Cook Political Report ranked the 2018 SC-1 race as "lean Republican," saying the district favors Republicans by 10 points.

The 2020 election will be an even more anticipated contest with Trump (presumably) at the top of the ticket. But for a Democrat looking to be re-elected in a historically Republican district in a red state, the task gets even taller.

Cunningham has kept busy since taking office on a mixture of issues with bipartisan appeal like offshore drilling and VA reform as well as more progressive initiatives (by S.C. standards) like workplace protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Still, he has not signed on with calls from Democrats to aggressively pursue impeachment proceedings against Trump.
The Republican field for the 1st District is pretty fluid at this point, with several potential candidates testing the waters to gauge early public opinion. S.C. Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort and S.C. Rep. Nancy Mace of Daniel Island (Berkeley County) both hail from counties won by Arrington in 2019 that national Republicans may see as appealing candidates to try to retake the 1st.

Charleston County GOP Chairman John Kuhn says its his party's top priority to win back the district, though Charleston County has gone for the Democratic candidate for president for the last three presidential elections.

Of course, Cunningham's camp knows the numbers as well as anyone. This week, email fundraising appeals called out the Cook rankings. "It's up to us to prove that Joe still has an army of grassroots supporters standing with him as he fights for Lowcountry families," one email read.

Republican voters will choose their nominee in about a year. Election day 2020 is on Nov. 3.

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