Democrats suffered a rough Election Day Tuesday after Republicans swept each statewide race and won five of the six congressional seats called before midnight.
However, Wednesday helped ease the blow for a minority party that has often struggled to remain relevant in South Carolina politics. Around 2 am, the Associated Press projected that political newcomer Joe Cunningham had enough votes to upset Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, R-Summerville in South Carolina’s First Congressional District.
“Tonight we made history,” Cunningham tweeted. “Thank you Lowcountry!”
Cunningham will be the first Democrat to hold the coastal district since 1981.
Arrington said she called to concede around mid-morning Wednesday. “To everyone out there in viewing audience, my supporters and those who didn’t support me, I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “This is just a break in time.”
Democrats had been optimistic about their chances after Arrington knocked off longtime U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford in June. Arrington aligned herself more with President Donald Trump than Sanford was willing to do. Trump endorsed Arrington and even taunted Sanford after the win.
Wednesday’s result was remarkable in that President Trump had won the district by double-digits just two years earlier. However, suburban growth in the Charleston area helped increase Democratic turnout and offset reliably-Republican Beaufort County. Cunningham was also able to gain a good amount of traction by criticizing Arrington as an offshore drilling supporter, even securing endorsements from several Republican mayors who represent the coastal communities surrounding Charleston.
Arrington on Wednesday blamed “money from around the nation” and Sanford’s refusal to endorse her. She called on Sanford’s donors to demand their money back from him, insisting he “could not understand that this was about the conservative movement and not him.”
While the race slipped below the national political radar, local observers had noted for months that it was likely Democrats’ best chance to flip a South Carolina congressional seat since the Reagan Administration.
Initial tallies showed that the final margin was outside the one percent difference needed for an automatic recount. The loss spoiled Arrington’s chance to become the first female Republican ever elected to Congress from South Carolina.