The Final Stretch for the First Congressional District Race

Oct 29, 2020

Their recent political ads have changed.  Democratic Congressman Joe Cunningham features his two year-old son Boone as music plays in the background.

"We teach our kids to respect others and find common ground.  But that's not what you see in Washington," the congressman says.

Republican challenger Nancy Mace appears from a Waffle House.

"I waited tables at the Waffle House and as a single mom I know every dollar counts," says Mace.


The Message 

But the message of each first congressional district candidate remains largely the same.  She's a fiscal conservative who's served in the state house.  He's a Washington newcomer who's gotten things done.

Both want their party to control the Lowcountry district stretching from Charleston to Hilton Head.  Cunningham flipped the seat two years ago becoming the first Democrat elected there in decades.

Only then, he didn't have to figure out how to campaign during a pandemic.

"I mean safety and health come first.  Politics come last," says the congressman.  "I wish we all could agree on that.  We don't."

Campaigning During the Coronavirus

"I mean safety and health come first. Politics come last. I wish we all could agree on that. We don't " - Congressman Joe Cunningham on campaigning during the coronavirus

The 38-year-old congressman has made most of his appearances virtually and kept his campaign theme of 2018, "Lowcountry over party". 

Mace, meantime, has been criticized on social media for holding large, in-person gatherings including one at the Citadel in Charleston with Vice President Mike Pence.  She insists there has been social distancing.

Both candidates have gotten the coronavirus.

When it comes to surviving the pandemic economically, Congressman Cunningham believes small businesses like restaurants need more federal assistance.  42-year-old Mace wonders at what cost?

"As we carry forward with more stimulus, more PPP for businesses, we've got to have someone who says time out.  How are we going to pay for all of this?"

Economic Stimulus

Mace blames House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for holding up another stimulus package and claims Cunningham has chosen party over the Lowcountry.

"We've got to have someone who says time out. How are we going to pay for all of this?" - Republican challenger Nancy Mace on a new stimulus package

"He's voted with Nancy Pelosi 90 percent of the time," she says.

Cunningham quickly points out one of his first votes as a freshman congressman was against Pelosi as speaker of the house.  As for stimulus, he says the Senate has been focused on something else.

"Covid relief and a stimulus package, if there's going to be one committee working on the Senate side it should be dedicated toward that, not towards running a supreme court justice through the nomination process just days before an election."

The U.S. Supreme Court 

Mace says she's grateful to late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the opinion against the Virginia Military Institute that ultimately allowed her to become the first female cadet to graduate from the Citadel.  But she says President Trump is the president until the end of the year and did the right thing nominating the next justice.

Congressman Cunningham is not surprised.

"I know my opponent worked for President Trump.  She has told people and I quote, 'I'm as pro-Trump as they come.'"

Like Cunningham's last opponent, Mace has the president's endorsement.

Trump won the first congressional district in 2016 beating Hillary Clinton by 13 percentage points.  Still, Cunningham claimed victory, although narrowly, by roughly 4,000 votes.

Then newly elected Congressman Joe Cunningham vows to ban offshore drilling and seismic testing during a rally outside the federal courthouse in Charleston in 2019.

A Changing District?

Dr. Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, says the district is changing.

"It's a really, really, suburban, highly educated district," says Knotts.  "So it's a district that a Republican can win.  But obviously, as Joe Cunningham has shown, a Democrat can win."

Knotts calls the suburbs the new battleground with Republicans finding strength in white voters from rural areas and Democrats counting on support in urban communities.

Cunningham and Mace do agree the country is more divided.  The congressman says the president hasn't always set a good example.

Nancy Mace (far right) says she too opposes offshore drilling. She joined a Charleston rally in 2019.

The President

"You watch his twitter feed and watch the things he says and yeah, I do think you see an absence of empathy," says the congressman.

Mace believes the radical left has been responsible for much of the violence following protests nationwide.

"You want to use somebody's twitter account as an excuse for violence in this country and that's never an excuse," she says.

Mace insists this race is not a referendum on the president.  But record turnout is expected as the country chooses its next leader.