The Buzz

As 2020 Dems converge in SC, a key fundraiser takes the stage

South Carolina Democrats have griped for years that the national party pays little to no attention to the state, writing off its electoral map as destined to favor Republicans.

In a sign Washington might be starting to pay attention, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is coming to town next week.

An Illinois Democrat, Bustos will deliver the keynote address at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s annual fundraising banquet next Friday.

“She is the first woman to represent her district, and her work as chair of the DCCC will display perfectly the spirit we want to build around our 2020 efforts,” said Trav Robertson, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, in a statement announcing Bustos’ selection.

Bustos represents a competitive district won by President Donald Trump in 2016, and she holds more moderate political views at a time when the Democratic Party is tilting toward the left. She was elected chair of the DCCC on a promise to defend and bolster the party’s new majority in the U.S. House, including by going into districts that have frequently been ignored out of state.

Take, for example, districts like the one held by South Carolina’s U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, who last fall became the first Democrat in nearly four decades to win his Lowcountry seat and is now among the most vulnerable incumbents up for reelection in 2020.

In an interview Thursday, Cunningham — who voted for Bustos for U.S. House Speaker in January to protest Nancy Pelosi’s continued leadership — agreed that Bustos was the right choice.

“She represents a Democrat that can win in a red area,” Cunningham said. “She has a message that resonates with working class Americans and reaching across the aisle. That’s kind of the face of our party and where we’re at.”

Cunningham also blamed gerrymandering as the reason South Carolina has “traditionally had an uphill battle” in getting Democrats elected.

While Bustos’ appearance at the state party dinner might be seen as reinforcement of the DCCC’s commitment to protecting Cunningham — and interest in South Carolina generally — the real test could be this time next year, when the Democratic candidate field is solidified across congressional races in the state. At that point, the national party will be forced to make choices about which contenders, other than Cunningham, it will support.

Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.