1st Congressional District (Open seat)
The race for the 1st Congressional District, which stretches from Charleston County to Hilton Head Island, first attracted national attention after freshman state Rep. Katie Arrington defeated former governor and incumbent U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford in a stunning upset prefaced by a last-minute Twitter endorsement from President Donald Trump. For those of us who call the Lowcountry home, we’ve been embedded in the good, bad, and ugly of this national race for far longer. On offshore drilling, Democrat Joe Cunningham, a political novice and attorney from West Ashley, has remained steadfast in his opposition to digging for black gold off the coast of South Carolina. Arrington, a Republican one-term state rep from Summerville, supported a policy of “energy independence” during the primary, once tweeting that offshore drilling isn’t visible from the coast. The rift is why Republican mayors from vulnerable coastal towns back Cunningham, a surprising choice that led to a tense phone call between Arrington and Isle of Palms Mayor Jimmy Carroll this month. On infrastructure, both candidates say they’re focused on bringing federal dollars down to the Lowcountry. Arrington slightly edges out Cunningham in political experience and White House connections (as she made clear multiple times in a televised debate on Oct. 16). Nationally, she tells City Paper that she’s also got her eye on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and on paying for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall plan by installing tolls. Cunningham’s priorities, in the meantime, are on bipartisanship and the environment. He’s the only candidate who mentions LGBTQ rights on his website. Both candidates toe their parties’ lines on abortion.
Voters in the 1st Congressional District should elect Joe Cunningham. The highest-profile race in the state this Election Day is also the easiest for us to choose who should win. Even if she’s not being compared to Cunningham, freshman Republican state Rep. Katie Arrington’s caustic, partisan rhetoric should not be elevated to Congress. Republican primary voters rode incumbent Rep. Mark Sanford out on a rail in an attempt to install Arrington after he proved disloyal to President Donald Trump. Sanford may not have been perfect, but if nothing else, he was a free thinker. Cunningham is a Democrat, but will likely be moderated by having to be re-elected every 24 months.
6th Congressional District
Gerhard R. Gressmann
Jim Clyburn has represented his gerrymandered-to-hell district since 1993. He’s happy to discuss D.C. controversies he’s knee-deep in as the highest-ranking African American member of Congress — he’s served as Asst. Democratic Leader since 2011 — but he’s most at home discussing policy initiatives for poor and rural South Carolinians. Those “Opportunity Zones” that you’ve heard Sen. Tim Scott talk about this year? Clyburn has been pushing something similar for a decade. His 10-20-30 plan would require that 10 percent of a particular federal spending account go toward communities with at least 20 percent poverty for the past 30 years. Enacted, that kind of targeted effort to combat generational poverty is the kind of program that could help lift up communities without requiring constant political maintenance — those “Opportunity Zones” are proposed by governors. U.S. Sen. Corey Booker, another Dem who has proposed efforts to mitigate persistent poverty recently signed on to help scale out 10-20-30.
GOP challenger Gerhard Gressmann is a pro-life pastor who says he believes in term limits and that Clyburn has had his chance to make a mark. A retired corrections officer, Gressman says he sympathizes with law enforcement, “especially when there’s organizations out there that advocate for the killing of police,” referring to Black Lives Matter, he says. (Asked where he heard that, Gressman simply said, “on television.”)
Democrats are poised to have a majority in the House, a move that could put Clyburn in a position to cap his career as Speaker of the House. Charleston and South Carolina would continue to wield influence in Congress if Clyburn is re-elected.