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Joe Cunningham says he's not going away as he concedes governor race to Henry McMaster

Former Democratic Congressman Joe Cunningham thanked supporters at the American Theater in downtown Charleston as he conceded to newly re-elected Governor Henry McMaster. Nov. 8, 2022
Victoria Hansen
Former Democratic Congressman Joe Cunningham thanked supporters at the American Theater in downtown Charleston as he conceded to newly re-elected Governor Henry McMaster. Nov. 8, 2022

Democrat Joe Cunningham lost his bid for governor but told supporters this is not the nail in his coffin, "far from that, folks"

Charleston, S.C.- The music thumped at the historic American Theater in downtown Charleston Tuesday night as a crowd of mostly 20 and 30-year-olds danced before a DJ on stage. This is where Democrat Joe Cunningham had hoped to keep 75-year-old Henry McMaster from potentially becoming the longest serving governor in state history.

It didn’t work out that way.

The DJ didn't stop but the dance floor cleared two hours after the polls closed as the crowd intently watched an empty podium for 40-year old Cunningham and his running mate, Tally Parham Casey, to appear.

The attorney and state's first female fighter jet pilot came out first. Casey’s eyes expressed gratitude and disappointment long before her words, delayed by a cheering crowd, did. She introduced Cunningham as one of the best friends she’s ever had.

Cunningham then emerged to an enthusiastic audience.

“Man, I love this city,” Cunningham said. “I love this state too.”

Cunningham told supporters that while he may have lost, the campaign was a success in furthering conversations about abortion rights for women, better pay for teachers and legalizing marijuana.

He said he would not let the night’s defeat define him but rather serve as a challenge.

“So, for anyone who thinks that this is the nail in the coffin or that I’m going away, far from that, folks,“ said Cunningham who was met with earsplitting applause.

The scene was a stark contrast to November 2018 when Cunningham held a victory press conference following an historic 1st Congressional District win before a small group of reporters at the International Longshoremen’s Association hall in Charleston. Then, the political newcomer who’d started a Congressional campaign at a kitchen table to become the first Democrat to represent the Lowcountry district in 40 years, was still finding his voice.

That wasn't the case Tuesday.

“This campaign was a reflection of ya’ll,” said Cunningham. “And recognizing that we’re a hell of a lot better state that what represents us in Columbia.”

Cunningham was critical of Governor McMaster during the campaign and the two traded plenty of jabs. But as he conceded, Cunningham said he believes the governor may have come around, at least on the issue of medical marijuana.

He urged young people to continue to become politically involved. Right now, those ages 18 to 29-years-old make up only 16 percent of state voters while people 65 and older account for nearly 26 percent.

Those numbers likely played a role in Governor McMaster’s re-election as did his long history of public service in a politically conservative state. If McMaster completes his second term, he will have served as governor for 10 years, longer than any other in state history.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.