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
In office
January 3, 2019 – January 3, 2021
Preceded byMark Sanford
Succeeded byNancy Mace
Personal details
Joseph Kendrick Cunningham

(1982-05-26) May 26, 1982 (age 39)
Caldwell County, Kentucky, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Amanda Bonfiglio
(m. 2014⁠–⁠2020)
EducationFlorida Atlantic University (BS)
Northern Kentucky University (JD)
WebsiteCampaign website

Joseph Kendrick Cunningham (born May 26, 1982) is an American politician, lawyer, and former engineer who served as the U.S. Representative from South Carolina's 1st congressional district from 2019 to 2021. 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 and was narrowly defeated in his 2020 re-election bid by Republican state representative Nancy Mace after one term in Congress.

He is a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2022 South Carolina gubernatorial election.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Cunningham was born in Caldwell County, Kentucky, and grew up in Kuttawa, Kentucky.[2] He graduated from Lyon County High School in 2000. Cunningham attended the College of Charleston for two years before transferring to Florida Atlantic University in 2002, where he obtained his Bachelor of Science in ocean engineering in 2005.[3][4][5]

Cunningham became an ocean engineer with a consulting company in Naples, Florida, and was laid off after about five years.[3] He spent some time learning Spanish in South America,[4] enrolled in law school at Northern Kentucky University's Salmon P. Chase College of Law in 2011, and graduated in 2014.[3][5] He then worked as a construction attorney for Charleston firm Lyle & Lyle and co-owned the Soul Yoga + Wellness yoga studio with his wife before campaigning for political office.[6]

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.[4][6] Cunningham won the nomination, defeating nonprofit consultant Toby Smith, receiving 71.5% of the vote.[7][8]

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.[9][10][11]

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.[12] Cunningham is the first Democrat to represent the Charleston-based district since 1981.[13] He was 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, Cunningham narrowly lost his seat to Republican state Representative Nancy Mace. Once a solidly Republican district, the 1st district has become competitive in recent elections due to the realignment of Charleston's suburban population to the Democratic Party. However, increased turnout in the heavily conservative Beaufort area undermined this trend, allowing Mace to overcome Cunningham's margin in Charleston County.[14]


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.[15] Cunningham was a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of Democrats who present themselves as moderate to conservative.[16]

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.[17]

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".[18][19] 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.[20] 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."[21] On December 18, 2019, Cunningham voted for both articles of impeachment against Trump.[22]

In his farewell speech to the House of Representatives in December 2020, Cunnigham toasted a can of beer to "the spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation", saying that "for the betterment of this country, we have to come together, we have to sit down and listen to each other, and maybe even have a beer."[23] GovTrack reports that during his two years in the U.S. House, Cunningham joined bipartisan bills the second most often and had the fifth most right wing voting record compared to other house Democrats.[24] Nancy Mace, Cunningham's Republican opponent in his 2020 reelection campaign, alleged that Cunningham voted with Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi 90% of the time.[25]

Committee assignments[edit]

Caucus memberships[edit]

Political positions[edit]

Cunningham was voted the 2019 Best Progressive by the Charleston City Paper.[33]

Cunningham supports the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).[34][35] Cunningham accepts the scientific consensus on climate change.[36] He does not support "defunding the police".[36]

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
South Carolina's 1st Congressional District General Election, 2020[37]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Nancy Mace 216,042 50.6
Democratic Joe Cunningham (incumbent) 210,627 49.3
Write-in 442 0.1
Total votes 427,111 100.0

Personal life[edit]

Cunningham lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with his son Boone.[38][39] Cunningham is an Eagle Scout.[3] His father, Bill Cunningham, is a former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice and author of historical fiction.[3]

On March 20, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cunningham announced that he had tested positive for the virus.[40] In 2021, Cunningham announced his separation from his wife Amanda.[41]


  1. ^ Bean, Riley (April 26, 2021). "Former Congressman Cunningham officially announces run for governor". Charleston, S.C.: WCSC-TV. Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b c d e Nettles, Brad (August 26, 2018). "Can Joe Cunningham go to Congress? 'I've learned not to underestimate him' | Palmetto Politics". The Post and Courier. Summerville, S.C. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Dumain, Emma (June 21, 2017). "First Democratic challenger declares bid to unseat South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford | Palmetto Politics". The Post and Courier. Summerville, S.C. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  5. ^ a b Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Accessed 2020-12-18
  6. ^ a b Spence, Sam (June 21, 2017). "First-time candidate announces Democratic challenge to Mark Sanford by standing against Nancy Pelosi | The Battery". Charleston City Paper. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  7. ^ "South Carolina Primary Election Results: Sanford Defeated in Republican House Primary". The New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  8. ^ "Election Night Reporting". Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  9. ^ Caitlin Byrd; Chloe Johnson. "Joe Cunningham takes SC 1st Congressional District race over Republican Kate Arrington". The Post and Courier. Summerville, S.C. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
  10. ^ "South Carolina Election Results 2018: Live Midterm Map by County & Analysis". Politico. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  11. ^ "South Carolina Election Results: First House District". The New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  12. ^ South Carolina 2018 House results from CNN
  13. ^ Mark Sanford (November 13, 2018). "Opinion: A Wake-Up Call for the G.O.P."
  14. ^ Brussee, David Slade and Bryan. "Growing populations in Republican areas helped Nancy Mace beat Joe Cunningham for Congress". Post and Courier. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
  15. ^ Lovegrove, Jamie (January 3, 2019). "Joe Cunningham votes for Illinois Democrat Cheri Bustos for House Speaker over Pelosi". The Post and Courier. Summerville, S.C.
  16. ^ Tripp, Drew (January 29, 2019). "'Blue Dog' Democrats welcome Joe Cunningham". Charleston, S.C.: WCIV. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "Ukraine scandal increases calls for Trump's impeachment, but not from SC's Cunningham". McClatchy. 2019.
  19. ^ "Complete List: Who Supports an Impeachment Inquiry Against Trump?". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  20. ^ "How Democrats and Republicans Voted on Trump Impeachment Rules". The New York Times. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  21. ^ Ferris, Sarah (December 16, 2019). "Vulnerable Democrats to vote to impeach Trump". Politico. Retrieved December 16, 2019.
  22. ^ Grace Panetta (December 18, 2019). "WHIP COUNT: Here's which members of the House voted for and against impeaching Trump". Business Insider.
  23. ^ "US congressman Joe Cunningham opens beer to toast bipartisanship". BBC News. Retrieved December 17, 2020.
  24. ^ "Rep. Joe Cunningham's 2020 Report Card". GovTrack. Retrieved January 30, 2021.
  25. ^ Nancy Mace (October 27, 2020). Better Choice – via YouTube.
  26. ^ "Pelosi Announces New Appointments to Committees for the 116th Congress". Speaker Nancy Pelosi. January 24, 2019. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  27. ^ "Pelosi Announces New Appointments to Committees for the 116th Congress". Speaker Nancy Pelosi. January 17, 2019. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  28. ^ "Blue Dogs Welcome Reps. Ed Case, Joe Cunningham, and Kendra Horn". Blue Dog Coalition. January 29, 2019. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  29. ^ "Members".
  30. ^ "Members | LGBT Equality Caucus".
  31. ^ "New Democrat Coalition Inducts 9 Additional Members". New Democrat Coalition. January 23, 2019. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  32. ^ "Featured Members". Problem Solvers Caucus. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  33. ^ "Joe Cunningham". Retrieved October 24, 2020 – via Facebook.
  34. ^ Thomas Novelly. "In SC 1st Congressional District, Cunningham and Mace differ on Affordable Care Act reform". The Post and Courier. Summerville, S.C. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  35. ^ "Cunningham votes in favor of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act amid pandemic". Charleston, S.C.: WCBD-TV. June 29, 2020. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  36. ^ a b Thomas Novelly (September 28, 2020). "Partisan hits fly as Cunningham and Mace share stage in SC congressional race debate". The Post and Courier. Summerville, S.C. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  37. ^ "2020 Statewide General Election Night Reporting - Results". South Carolina Election Commission. November 10, 2020. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ Harrison, Jenna-Ley. "Party lines continue to cross with Arrington, Cunningham endorsements". The Gazette. Summerville, S.C.
  40. ^ Davidson, Katie (April 1, 2020). "U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham out of quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19". Greenville, S.C.: WYFF. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
  41. ^ Folks, Will (March 23, 2021). "Joe Cunningham And His Wife Are Splitsville". FITSNews. South Carolina.

External links[edit]

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

Succeeded by