Cunningham's campaign announcement event brought supporters to Tradesman Brewing Co. Wednesday | Skyler Baldwin

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham announced his bid for governor on Monday, and kicked off a 46-county campaign tour in Charleston at Tradesman Brewing Co. with beers, cheers and a few jeers.

With supporters like 7th grader Ivy Ward, S.C. Rep. Spencer Wetmore and Charleston County Councilman Kylon Middleton taking the stage first to get the crowd excited, hundreds greeted Cunningham, chanting, “Joe can win.”

The brewery setting is a familiar one for Cunningham, who made a point to boost local craft beer producers during his term in Congress.

Cunningham is throwing his hat in the ring to challenge Gov. Henry McMaster at a time when South Carolinians are itching for change, he said.

Cunningham announced his candidacy to cheering supporters Wednesday | Skyler Baldwin

“It’s been a tough year, to say the least,” Cunningham said. “We’ve lost 8,300 of our neighbors to the pandemic, countless small businesses have closed and too many have lost their jobs … But the fact is, South Carolina faced enormous challenges before this pandemic.”

Cunningham pointed to longstanding S.C. issues like teacher shortages and the lack of affordable health care as existing challenges that were exacerbated by the pandemic. “This pandemic amplified very shortcoming that exists in our state,” he said.

“As we turn the page from this pandemic and work to emerge healthier, safer and stronger, it is clear that we need to change from the failed leadership that got us here in the first place,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham continued, railing against McMaster’s record and leadership decisions, including the state having been dead last in vaccine distribution, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control going without a head for nearly a year and vetoing bills that would have expanded infrastructure and health care.

“It’s a good thing the governor isn’t a coach in the SEC, because with a record like that, he would have been out of a job for a long time,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham was ranked as having one of the most bipartisan voting records in Congress during his single term before he was unseated by U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace in 2020.