Elections

SC Republican party staffs up to defeat Joe Cunningham, support Lindsey Graham

Democrat Joe Cunningham, center, greets supporters after his victory press conference at the International Longshoremen’s Association hall in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Democratic U.S. House candidate Cunningham used a personal touch and concern for local issues like offshore drilling to beat a Republican in conservative South Carolina.
Democrat Joe Cunningham, center, greets supporters after his victory press conference at the International Longshoremen’s Association hall in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Democratic U.S. House candidate Cunningham used a personal touch and concern for local issues like offshore drilling to beat a Republican in conservative South Carolina. The Associated Press

As the 2020 election creeps closer, the South Carolina Republican Party is hiring staff to head up efforts to defeat 1st District Congressman Joe Cunningham and support re-election efforts of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and President Donald Trump.

In a statement released Wednesday, the S.C. GOP announced that Steven Michael was hired as the party’s Chief Victory Strategist and Leighton Gray Smith will direct efforts in the 1st District.

Michael and Smith will work with representatives of the state GOP, Trump’s campaign and Graham’s campaign to champion Republican efforts across the state, according to the statement. They will be joined by other staffers in the GOP’s “Victory 2020” effort as the party makes more hires next year.

“I am pleased to welcome Steve and Leighton Gray aboard as we prepare for victory in 2020,” GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said, according to the statement. “We have started our Victory program for the 2020 cycle earlier than in any previous year due to incredible opportunities and the importance of this election.”

Michael’s past political experience includes working for the Missouri Republican Party and for U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma. Before joining the S.C. GOP’s efforts, Smith worked for S.C. Rep. Peter McCoy’s campaign, according to her LinkedIn account.

The S.C. GOP has good reason to focus on ousting Cunningham and helping Graham keep his U.S. Senate seat.

Graham’s competition in November could be significant. Jaime Harrison, a nationally connected and well-funded Democrat, is seeking his party’s nomination to oppose Graham.

Among congressional races, the 1st District is expected to be the hardest fought congressional race in South Carolina in 2020. The seat, which turned blue in a stunning upset by Democrat Cunningham in 2018, was previously a Republican stronghold, held by the party for nearly 40 years.

Multiple Republican opponents have lined up to take on Cunningham, including S.C. Rep. Nancy Mace, Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox, Mt. Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing and Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert.

As of the last campaign finance filings, Cunningham has raised more money than his opponents, racking up nearly $2 million total for his re-election bid.

While incumbent Republican Graham enjoys broad support from Republicans and has raised record amounts of campaign cash — he boasted $8.4 million on hand to close out the last fundraising quarter — Harrison also has been setting records, raising $2.2 million in 2019’s third quarter alone.

A recent poll showed 53% of S.C. voters vowing to back Graham’s re-election, while only 30% stood behind likely Democratic challenger Jamie Harrison. An earlier poll, conducted in September, had Harrison trailing Graham by just 7 percentage points.

Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.
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