After a nail biting night and an all too close early morning win, Congressman-Elect Joe Cunningham addressed the press Wednesday night in front of a small group of family and friends at a longshoremen’s union hall in Charleston. He spoke about a campaign that began at a kitchen table with no money, no staff and no idea how to run for election. But Cunningham said he decided to run to fight for a nation less divided for future generations.
“I wanted to run a positive campaign,” said Cunningham. “We focused not on tearing our opponent down, but talking about the issues that affected folks at their kitchen tables.”
The Charleston attorney and ocean engineer narrowly defeated first term state house representative Katie Arrington, making him the first democrat the first congressional district has sent to congress in nearly 40 years. He replaces republican congressman Mark Sanford who he says he’s already contacted as he puts together a transition team.
“This campaign has come to an end,” he said. “We start the process of leading and governing, and to the people who voted for my opponent, I want you all to know that my door will always be open to you. You will always have a seat at the table.”
Katie Arrington conceded earlier in the day at the same Charleston area hotel where she held her watch party. She blamed Congressman Mark Sanford for her loss, saying he could not understand the race was about the conservative moment and not about him. She beat Sanford in the June primary with help from the president who tweeted for her and criticized Sanford. She had the backing of the president during the midterm as well. But it wasn’t enough.
One of the key issues Cunningham’s camp was able to capitalize on is offshore drilling. He made it clear he was against it while pointing out Arrington supported the president’s decision to lift the ban. The first congressional district runs along the coast from Charleston to Hilton Head and several republican mayors endorsed Cunningham over Arrington on that issue alone.
Arrington said she will be back in 2020. Cunningham wished her well and thanked her for what he called a spirited campaign. He recognized his wife and young son as well. He’s now headed to Washington with another child on the way. He says his wife revealed she was pregnant the day after he announced his kitchen table campaign.
“More than anything, I want you to know this,” he said. “I believe that politics should not be about scoring points. It should be about working together to do what’s right and that’s exactly what I intend on doing in Washington.”