GOP challenger fundraising tops South Carolina’s Cunningham

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Republican seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham has outraised the freshman Democrat in the final fundraising quarter before their general election matchup, as both candidates ratchet up their rhetoric in the campaign’s closing weeks.

Campaign manager Mara Mellstrom told The Associated Press on Thursday that Nancy Mace had raised more than $2.3 million in the fundraising period that ended Wednesday. That amount tops the $1.8 million that Cunningham’s campaign said he brought in during the same period.

“This massive level of support sets her apart from other challengers in close races, and ensures the campaign will have the resources to win on Election Day,” Mellstrom told the AP.

Mace has raised more than $4 million overall during her campaign.

In a release earlier Thursday, Cunningham’s campaign said his third-quarter take brought his overall fundraising to more than $6.1 million in the race. That figure, the campaign said, topped the previous fundraising record for a U.S. House race in South Carolina, held by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson for his 2010 campaign.

It also more than doubled Cunningham’s total haul from 2018, when he stunned South Carolina by becoming the first Democrat to win the 1st District in 40 years. He also was South Carolina’s first new Democrat to go to Congress since Jim Clyburn in 1992.

Since Cunningham’s election — which state GOP Chairman Drew McKissick called “the biggest disappointment we had on the ballot” in 2018 — both Republicans and Democrats have targeted the 1st District as a must-win seat for 2020.

As early as December 2018, South Carolina Republicans began laying the groundwork for a “victory plan,” including hiring full-time staff devoted to the GOP network. The district stretches from Charleston along the coast to Hilton Head Island, an area rich with out-of-state retirees whose imported politics may be contributing to the area’s shifting preferences. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been running digital ads in the race since August 2019.

Cunningham has pointed to his ratings among the more bipartisan members of Congress, and endorsement from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which often backs GOP candidates, as evidence of his ability to represent a district that has for years been held by Republicans. Mace, who worked with President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and has backing from the White House in her current race, has frequently portrayed Cunningham as a left-leaning foot-soldier of Democratic leadership.

Cunningham and Mace, who met in their first debate Monday night, do agree on some issues, including their opposition to drilling off South Carolina’s coast.

As he did during his first campaign, Cunningham has made fighting offshore drilling a major part of his first term, introducing an anti-drilling measure as his debut bill. Mace, who once appeared side-by-side with Cunningham at an anti-drilling event in Charleston, has held out Cunningham’s bill — which passed the House but not the Senate — as evidence he can’t achieve legislative success.

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Follow Meg Kinnard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

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AP’s Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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