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  • Writer's pictureDavid M. Rubin

Joe Cunningham Rolls Out His Campaign

Former Congressman Joe Cunningham, now a candidate for Governor of South Carolina, outlined why he is running for the job and how he will attack incumbent Governor Henry McMaster. He met with a large and enthusiastic group of voters at the Oak Road Brewery in Summerville on Thursday, July 9. He was invited to speak by the Dorchester County Democratic Party organization and its chair, Tim Lewis.

Cunningham, who barely lost his House seat in November of 2020 to Nancy Mace, acknowledged that some Democrats hoped he would challenge her and regain the seat. But he said he was running for Governor because “that is where the need is.”

He reminded his audience that with a pandemic raging in South Carolina, one largely ignored by McMaster, the first legislation coming out of Columbia concerned abortion and guns, and not the needs of the moment. McMaster is “a governor of the past,” Cunningham said. He, Cunningham, will be a “governor of the future.”

He intends to campaign as a Governor who will put education at the top of his agenda. He will raise teacher pay in the state, make local college tuition free for in-state students, and become known as “the education builder.”

In addition, he said his “first act on day one” as Governor would be to expand the availability of Medicaid in South Carolina, something McMaster has refused to do despite the fact that the federal government will pay most of the cost. He said this expansion would help save rural hospitals and clinics, and it would create jobs in the medical sector.

Then he would focus on infrastructure repair in a state where, he noted, there are 725 structurally deficient bridges. He asked how many in the audience feel safe driving themselves and their children across such bridges.

Cunningham promised “the most diverse cabinet and staff of any government there has been in Columbia.”

He would automatically register all voters when they turn 18, and he would take steps to end gerrymandering.

Cunningham acknowledged it has not been easy in recent years for Democrats to win statewide races in South Carolina. He pointed to three advantages he holds:

First, he beat long odds before in capturing the House seat representing the First District in South Carolina. No Democrat had won this seat since the election in 1978, and that was a very different Democratic Party. Since then, the Republican Party of Richard Nixon and the southern strategy had held the seat.

Second, 2022 is not a Presidential election year. If not for Trump heading the ticket in 2020, Cunningham would likely have prevailed over Mace, who trailed far behind Trump in the balloting.

Third, electoral decisions about Governors are not the same as national elections for President and Senate. In many states the party of the Governor is different from the party that dominates the state legislature. Voters see the value of divided government at the state level. South Carolina, Cunningham implied, is ready to embrace that model.

The DCDP will invite Cunningham’s primary opponent, State Senator Mia McLeod, to a future meeting. Watch for notice of that.


Blogger David M. Rubin is the former Dean of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He is a former columnist for the Syracuse Post-Standard and an expert on First Amendment law (speech and press). He lives in Summerville.

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