Joe Cunningham (American politician)

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Joe Cunningham
Joe Cunningham, Official Porrtait, 116th Congress.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st district
Assumed office
January 3, 2019
Preceded byMark Sanford
Personal details
Joseph Kendrick Cunningham

(1982-05-26) May 26, 1982 (age 38)
Caldwell County, Kentucky, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Amanda Bonfiglio
(m. 2014)
FatherBill Cunningham
EducationFlorida Atlantic University (BS)
Northern Kentucky University (JD)
WebsiteHouse website

Joseph Kendrick Cunningham (born May 26, 1982) is an American lawyer and politician serving as the U.S. Representative for South Carolina's 1st congressional district. The district includes much of South Carolina's share of the Atlantic Coast, from Charleston to Hilton Head Island.

A member of the Democratic Party, Cunningham narrowly defeated Republican state representative Katie Arrington in the 2018 general election. He lost his 2020 attempt at re-election to Nancy Mace after only one term in Congress.

Early life and education[edit]

Cunningham was born in Caldwell County, Kentucky, and grew up in Kuttawa, Kentucky.[1] He graduated from Lyon County High School. Cunningham attended the College of Charleston for two years before transferring to Florida Atlantic University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Science in ocean engineering in 2005.[2]

Cunningham became an ocean engineer with a company in Naples, Florida. Five years later, he was laid off in the 2008 recession. He enrolled in law school at Northern Kentucky University's Salmon P. Chase College of Law in 2011.[2]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]



In July 2017, Cunningham announced his candidacy for the United States House of Representatives in South Carolina's 1st congressional district.[3][4] Cunningham won the nomination, defeating nonprofit consultant Toby Smith, receiving 71.5% of the vote.[5][6]

Cunningham expected to face Republican incumbent Mark Sanford. However, Sanford was defeated in the Republican primary by State Representative Katie Arrington. Cunningham defeated Arrington with 50.7% of the vote, marking the first time since 1986 that South Carolina Democrats have flipped a U.S. House seat. His victory was widely considered a major upset.[7][8][9]

While Arrington carried four of the district's five counties, Cunningham prevailed by winning Charleston County by almost 17,000 votes–more than four times the overall margin of 4,000 votes.[10] Cunningham is the first Democrat to represent the Charleston-based district since 1981.[11] He is also the first white Democrat to win a House seat in the Deep South since John Barrow won reelection in 2012.[citation needed]


In 2020, due to a local surge of votes for Trump in the presidential race and concurrent conservative momentum in various other Blue Dog-held House seats in the country, Cunningham lost his seat to Republican opponent Nancy Mace, despite comfortable leads in most polls.


In his first vote as a U.S. Representative, Cunningham declined to back Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Cunningham instead voted for Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois.[12] Cunningham has joined the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of Democrats who present themselves as moderate to conservative.[13]

On March 8, 2019, while National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assistant administrator for fisheries Chris Oliver was testifying at a Natural Resources Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee hearing on the effects of seismic testing on right whales, Cunningham blasted an air horn to demonstrate how disruptive commercial air guns were to whales. Cunningham argued that the sound of commercial air guns was up to 16,000 times louder than an air horn.[14]

Cunningham stopped short of endorsing an impeachment inquiry against President Trump after the Ukraine allegations emerged, stating that a partisan rush to impeach the President would be bad for the country, but that if the allegations against Trump were true, they "represent a clear threat to the Constitution, our national security and the democratic process."[15][16] On October 31, 2019, however, Cunningham voted in favor of a resolution to lay out rules to proceed with an impeachment inquiry of President Trump.[17] On December 16, Cunningham announced that he would support both articles of impeachment pending in the House of Representatives, saying "At the end of day, this is simply about the rule of law, whether we’re a country with laws or not and what type of precedent we want to set for future presidents."[18] On December 18, 2019, Cunningham voted for both articles of impeachment against Trump.[19]

Committee assignments[edit]

Caucus memberships[edit]

Political positions[edit]

Cunningham was voted the 2019 Best Progressive by the Charleston City Paper.[26]

Cunningham supports the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).[27][28] Cunningham accepts the scientific consensus on climate change.[29] He does not support "defunding the police."[29]

Electoral history[edit]

South Carolina 1st Congressional District Democratic Primary, 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Joe Cunningham 23,443 71.5
Democratic Toby Smith 9,342 28.5
Total votes 32,785 100.0
South Carolina 1st Congressional District General Election, 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Joe Cunningham 145,455 50.6
Republican Katie Arrington 141,473 49.2
n/a Write-ins 505 0.2
Total votes 287,433 100.0

Personal life[edit]

Cunningham lives in Charleston, South Carolina with his wife Amanda and their son, Boone.[30][31] Cunningham is an Eagle Scout.[2] His father, Bill Cunningham, is a former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice and author of historical fiction.[2]

On March 20, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cunningham announced that he had tested positive for the virus.[32]


  1. ^ Flairty, Steve (November 13, 2018). "Kentucky by Heart: Joe Cunningham, Chase grad, flips U.S. house seat in S. Carolina for dems". Northern Kentucky Tribune. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Nettles, Brad (August 26, 2018). "Can Joe Cunningham go to Congress? 'I've learned not to underestimate him' | Palmetto Politics". Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  3. ^ Dumain, Emma (June 21, 2017). "First Democratic challenger declares bid to unseat South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford | Palmetto Politics". Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  4. ^ Spence, Sam (June 21, 2017). "First-time candidate announces Democratic challenge to Mark Sanford by standing against Nancy Pelosi | The Battery". Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  5. ^ "South Carolina Primary Election Results: Sanford Defeated in Republican House Primary". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  6. ^ "Election Night Reporting". Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  7. ^ Caitlin Byrd; Chloe Johnson. "Joe Cunningham takes SC 1st Congressional District race over Republican Kate Arrington". Post and Courier. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
  8. ^ "South Carolina Election Results 2018: Live Midterm Map by County & Analysis". Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  9. ^ "South Carolina Election Results: First House District". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  10. ^ South Carolina 2018 House results from CNN
  11. ^ Mark Sanford (November 13, 2018). "Opinion: A Wake-Up Call for the G.O.P."
  12. ^ Lovegrove, Jamie (January 3, 2019). "Joe Cunningham votes for Illinois Democrat Cheri Bustos for House Speaker over Pelosi". Post and Courier.
  13. ^ Tripp, Drew (January 29, 2019). "'Blue Dog' Democrats welcome Joe Cunningham". WCIV. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  14. ^ Darryl Fears (March 8, 2019). "A Trump official said seismic air gun tests don't hurt whales. So a congressman blasted him with an air horn". The Washington Post.
  15. ^ "Ukraine scandal increases calls for Trump's impeachment, but not from SC's Cunningham". McClatchy. 2019.
  16. ^ "Complete List: Who Supports an Impeachment Inquiry Against Trump?". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  17. ^ "How Democrats and Republicans Voted on Trump Impeachment Rules". The New York Times. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  18. ^ Ferris, Sarah (December 16, 2019). "Vulnerable Democrats to vote to impeach Trump". Politico. Retrieved December 16, 2019.
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Pelosi Announces New Appointments to Committees for the 116th Congress". Speaker Nancy Pelosi. January 24, 2019. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  21. ^ "Pelosi Announces New Appointments to Committees for the 116th Congress". Speaker Nancy Pelosi. January 17, 2019. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  22. ^ "Blue Dogs Welcome Reps. Ed Case, Joe Cunningham, and Kendra Horn". Blue Dog Coalition. January 29, 2019. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  23. ^ "Members".
  24. ^ "Members | LGBT Equality Caucus".
  25. ^ "New Democrat Coalition Inducts 9 Additional Members". New Democrat Coalition. January 23, 2019. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  26. ^ "Joe Cunningham". Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  27. ^, Thomas Novelly. "In SC 1st Congressional District, Cunningham and Mace differ on Affordable Care Act reform". Post and Courier. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  28. ^ "Cunningham votes in favor of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act amid pandemic". WCBD News 2. June 29, 2020. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  29. ^ a b, Thomas Novelly. "Partisan hits fly as Cunningham and Mace share stage in SC congressional race debate". Post and Courier. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  30. ^ Haas, Karen (December 13, 2018). "Unofficial List Of Members of the House of Representatives of the United States and Their Places of Residence | One Hundred Sixteenth Congress" (PDF). Clerk of the House of Representatives.
  31. ^ Harrison, Jenna-Ley. "Party lines continue to cross with Arrington, Cunningham endorsements". The Gazette.
  32. ^ Davidson, Katie (April 1, 2020). "U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham out of quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19". WYFF. Retrieved November 17, 2020.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Mark Sanford
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Nancy Mace
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Jason Crow
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Sharice Davids