Charleston lawyer Joe Cunningham became the first Democrat to announce a campaign to unseat Congressman Mark Sanford in the 1st District.

Cunningham, 35, is currently a construction attorney at the downtown firm Lyles and Lyles. He attended high school in western Kentucky and spent a couple years at College of Charleston before transferring to Florida Atlantic University where he earned an ocean engineering degree. After a few years as an engineer, Cunningham enrolled in law school at Kentucky. He returned to Charleston in 2014; he and his wife Amanda live in West Ashley and also co-own Soul Yoga + Wellness on Ashley River Road.

In a video declaring his candidacy today, Cunningham paints Sanford as a career politician who “has been in one political office or another for decades” and pledges to stand up to President Donald Trump. Looking to score with Lowcountry voters unhappy with establishment politics, Cunningham, who has never run for political office before, tweeted that he would not support Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker if Democrats win back the House in 2018.


Cunningham’s announcement comes the morning after Democrats suffered two losses in special elections that were seen as tests of the president’s effect on national Republicans. In the 6th District of Georgia, the DNC put some $24 million behind Jon Ossoff, who ended up losing by 5 percent. In the South Carolina 5th, Democrat Archie Parnell received a modest $275,000 infusion from the party, but lost to Ralph Norman by just 3 percent in a reliably Republican district.

Coincidentally, the D.C. media consulting firm behind Parnell’s surprise insurgence also worked on Cunningham’s intro video.


Since Sanford returned to Congress in 2013, he’s been re-elected twice, going unopposed in 2014 and winning by 25 percent against Dimitri Cherny last year. It will be interesting to watch how the race shapes up since Sanford hasn’t exactly been a rank-and-file Trump supporter. Back in March, the president dispatched Sanford’s former colleague Mick Mulvaney, now Trump’s budget director, to tell Sanford that he would earn himself a Trump-backed Republican challenger if he didn’t support the leadership’s early Obamacare repeal proposal. Sanford has also repeated calls for Trump to release his tax returns.

[content-1] In a press release today, Cunningham said, “I have no political debts to pay and my decisions will be made with one and only one consideration in mind — what’s best for the lives of my neighbors in the Lowcountry.”

Two Republican candidates planning primary challenges against Sanford have opted-out of the race, but the P&C reports that Summerville Rep. Katie Arrington is being urged to run by local conservatives as a pro-Trump candidate. No other Democrats have announced that they’ll run.

The 1st District includes coastal areas south of the Santee River to Hilton Head, including lower downtown Charleston, and suburban areas of Berkeley and Dorchester Counties.

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