Politics & Government

SC Democrat Joe Cunningham has a target on his back for 2020, and a lot of cash

Grassroots supporters, national Democrats and Lowcountry attorneys helped boost US. Rep. Joe Cunningham’s fundraising efforts in his bid to keep his coastal congressional seat.

Newly filed campaign finance reports show the vulnerable freshman Democrat raised more than $615,000 from April through June for his re-election bid — topping fundraising from all other U.S. House candidates in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, Republicans vying for the seat are gearing up their fundraising efforts for what is expected to be a competitive GOP primary and expensive general election.

More than $530,000 came from individual donors, a vast majority of which were donations of $500 or less.

And none of the money came from corporate political action committees, his campaign boasted.

“Joe doesn’t take money from PACs, and strong fundraising from people — not special interests — will keep Joe on the job and show Washington what it means to put Lowcountry over Party,” Cunningham finance director Allie Watters said in a statement.

The Charleston Democrat, however, received more than $85,000 from committees tied to House Democrats and 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton.

Cunningham’s campaign also received cash from committees tied to California U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, who ended his 2020 Democratic presidential campaign last week, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

Contributions also came from the centrist-capitalist New Democrat Coalition Majority Fund and Maintaining a Majority, a joint fundraising committee of newly elected House members that aided in the midterm surge that delivered control of House to Democrats.

More than half of the money Cunningham raised in the second quarter of 2019 was in-state cash. And more than $140,000 was raised from fellow attorneys, mainly in the Charleston and Columbia areas.

All told, Cunningham’s campaign raised $1.3 million from more than 2,500 donors since he pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 election, reclaiming a seat that had been held by Republicans since 1981. He spent about $450,000 on campaign staff, travel, consulting services and fundraising, leaving him with more than $980,000 cash on hand, his report shows.

Cunningham’s latest numbers are encouraging, but he will need to continue the fundraising momentum in what’s expected to become a costly race, said College of Charleston political science professor Gibbs Knotts.

The district will likely become a battleground for national Democrats trying to hold on to congressional seats and the GOP trying to wrest control away, Knotts said.

“All of the eyes of South Carolina and the nation will be on this bellwether district that will determine who is in control in the U.S. House,” he said.

“Members of the House are constantly fundraising because they’re up for election every two years,” he added. “But he’s got to do fundraising on steroids for a chance to hold a district that is Republican leaning as a Democrat.”

GOP mounting challenge

Republican challengers have been lining up to oppose Cunningham, a top target for state and national Republicans in 2020. The race is expected to become a costly as the district becomes a battle ground for national Democrats trying to hold on to congressional seats and the GOP trying to wrest control away.

State Rep. Nancy Mace of Daniel Island raised nearly $150,000 in four weeks from about 100 donors. A vast majority — more than $110,000 — was from S.C. donors.

A former marketing executive turned real estate agent, Mace received donations from the owner of the Charleston Battery professional soccer club and Charleston-area construction, real estate and law firms.

Mace, who announced her candidacy late last month for the GOP primary to unseat Cunningham after having been elected to her first full term in November, reported having nearly $153,000 cash on hand.

Financial planner and Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing, raised less than $30,000 from individual donors and loaned her campaign $250,000, according to the latest FEC records.

Landing, who officially launched her candidacy for the coastal congressional seat last month, had more than $278,000 cash on hand as of the end of June.

Beaufort County Councilman Michael Covert of Bluffton raised nearly $49,000 in the second quarter. He had more than $52,000 cash on hand as of the end of June.

Logan Cunningham, a Hilton Head Island school teacher who lives in Bluffton, did not meet the $5,000 reporting threshold. And Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox of Mount Pleasant, who last week announced his plans to run for the seat, did not report campaign fundraising as of Tuesday, according to the FEC’s website.

2nd Quarter fundraising in other SC congressional races

2nd District

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R) — Raised: $109,824; Spent: $136,061; Cash on hand: $124,021

Adair Ford Boroughs (D) — Raised: $245,669; Spent: $99,385; Cash on hand: $146,283

3rd District

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R) — Raised: $129,940; Spent: $99,139; Cash on hand: $288,908

4th District

U.S. Rep. William Timmons (R) — Raised: $97,165; Spent: $109,585; Cash on hand: $35,808

5th District

U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman (R) — Raised: $92,666; Spent: $13,481; Cash on hand: $585,511

6th District

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D) — Raised $444,181; Spent $460,698; Cash on hand $1,165,275

7th District

U.S. Rep. Tim Rice (R) — Raised: $246,711; Spent: $104,560; Cash on hand: $1,092,502

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.