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With Primaries in Rear View, Cunningham Looks to Make Political Comeback for Self, Party

Joe Cunningham
Meg Kinnard/AP
FILE -Former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, speaks at the South Carolina Democratic Party Black Caucus' "Sunday Dinner" on Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. At least some of the five South Carolina Democrats seeking their party's gubernatorial nomination are expected to debate, just more than a week before the state's primary elections. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File)

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham has won the Democratic nomination for Governor Tuesday. Cunningham will face Republican Gov. Henry McMaster in November.

During his acceptance speech at the iconic Music Farm in Charleston, Cunningham thanked family, supporters, and opponents, thanking State Senator Mia Mcleod for putting herself forward to run and for a “spirited debate,” but quickly acknowledge the political pivot needed to unseat incumbent McMaster.

“I look forward to working with you in the months to come as we bring our state out of the past and into the future.”

Cunningham celebrates flipping the state’s 1st Congressional District blue in 2018, winning by 3,509 votes out of 268,111, or 1.4 percent. It was the first time a Democrat won the seat in 40 years. He credits that accomplishment to building bipartisan relationships with mayors throughout the coastal region. But in 2020, Cunningham lost the seat to Republican Nancy Mace. If elected in November, it will be his return to the political landscape, but also the Democratic party’s return to the governor’s office. Jim Hodges was the last Democrat to hold the state’s highest office, creating a 23-year party absence from the position.

Five candidates were vying for the Party’s nomination. Along with Cunningham, were Calvin McMillian, William Williams, Carlton Boyd, and Mia McLeod. Cunningham and McLeod earned most of the votes; Cunningham with 56%; McLeod with 30%.

To earn the majority of votes in November, Cunningham will need to need to tap into the bipartisan-forging ability he had back in 2018. Campaign manager Trevor Maloney is confident he can accomplish the task.

He said, for more than a year, “Joe has been running on raising teacher pay, fixing our roads and bridges and doing something about the crime problem in South Carolina.”

Maloney added, they’ve talked with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and that “these aren’t partisan issues.”

Thelisha Eaddy is a reporter/producer for South Carolina Public Radio.