Joe Cunningham Launches First TV Ad, Kicking Off Re-Election Campaign

July 13, 2020 by Dan McCue
Rep. Joe Cunningham

Nineteen months ago a Democrat who had never run for elected office stunned the political intelligentsia and won a U.S. House seat when barely anyone thought he would succeed.

South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, snaking along the southeastern coastline of the state, had been reliably Republican for nearly 40 years, and just two years earlier, in 2016, President Donald Trump had soundly beaten Hillary Clinton by 13 percentage points.

Analysts stamped the district “safe Republican” and kept it there all autumn. The smart money said Joe Cunningham would lose by 10 percentage points.

The smarter still wouldn’t even hazard a bet.

And then an amazing thing happened, on election night November 6, 2018, Cunningham proved the doubters wrong, pulling off the upset of upsets and winning his House seat by 1 percentage point.

This past week, Cunningham released the first television ad of his re-election campaign, a minute-long spot called “Found A Way.” 

Not surprisingly, the coronavirus outbreak and the House response to it, is front and center in the advertisement, which is currently running on cable and local television in in the Charleston and Savannah-Beaufort media markets as part of a substantial media buy reaching Lowcountry voters on broadcast, cable, and digital channels.

“When everything stopped, we all felt it,” Cunningham says over images of an eerily silent downtown Charleston and a busy hospital.

“Businesses closed. Lives lost. Streets emptied,” he adds. “And when those same streets filled back up with anger — we felt that, too.”

With that, footage of protesters marching in downtown Charleston in June following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minn., fill the screen.

“Thing is, when we get through this — and we will — it’ll be because we worked together and found a way. That’s what I’ve tried to do in Congress,” says the congressman who has established a reputation as a centrist and someone eager to find bipartisan solutions to problems on Capitol Hill.

With that, the ad turns to Cunningham’s other accomplishments, including his House-passed effort to ban offshore drilling off South Carolina’s coast and his work on behalf of veterans.

Finally, the ad returns to coronavirus, with Cunningham reminding his constituents that he tested positive for the virus, that he fought to get small businesses the funding they needed to get through the health crisis, and that he got the community association on well-heeled Kiawah Island to return a $1 million federal loan meant to aid small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

One thing notably missing from the ad is any mention of the House impeachment inquiry or Cunningham’s own vote to impeach the president.

He also does not mention Nancy Mace, who last month prevailed in the Republican primary for the opportunity to challenge him.

Instead, he closes by saying, “When you first elected me, I never dreamed there would be a challenge like this,” referring to the pandemic. “And while we may not always agree, know that I will listen to you, fight for you, and always put the Lowcountry first.”

The Cunningham campaign has not said how much it spent on the ad or media buy, and it hasn’t yet shown up in its Federal Election Commission filings.

The most recent filing by the campaign shows that as of May 20, Cunningham had raised just over $3.7 million and has $2.6 million on hand.

The same records show his advertising to date was primarily digital, with expenditures ranging from $500 to $1,100 per month at the height of the pandemic.

Second-term State Rep. Nancy Mace raised $1.3 million as of May 20, and had about $560,026 on hand as of the filing date, which was roughly two weeks before the June 9 South Carolina GOP primary.

Mace, who was involved in a hotly contested primary race with Mount Pleasant, S.C., Councilwoman Kathy Landing, spent about $122,505 for the services of Strategic Media Placement, an Ohio company providing multi-media advertising services.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report currently rates the race as a toss-up and the contest is expected to be a fierce one.

The South Carolina GOP began planning its “reclamation project” in the 1st Congressional District weeks after Cunningham’s victory.

In an interview with Charleston’s Post and Courier newspaper, Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan University of Virginia newsletter, said the race could be one of the defining contests of the 2020 election.

“It’s indicative of the overall challenge for Republicans to win back the House in that it’s not at all that clear that Cunningham is a goner,” Kondik said. “The race is a toss-up, and if Republicans aren’t winning this seat, it’s hard to see them winning others,” he said.

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