Arrington MSNBC interview

In an interview that aired Sunday on MSNBC, Republican congressional candidate Katie Arrington responds to a question about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Screenshot. MSNBC.

Katie Arrington should be on Joe Cunningham’s payroll — and angling for a performance bonus.

Because, honestly, no one’s working harder to get him elected to Congress.

In recent weeks, Arrington — the Republican nominee for the 1st District — has made several easily disproven claims that damage her credibility.

She said Cunningham was campaigning while she was in intensive care after a tragic car accident in June, all evidence to the contrary. Some online ads claim Cunningham wants to abolish ICE, the season’s standard GOP refrain. But not true, he says.

Her biggest whopper to date came during an interview with MSNBC, and it suggests that Arrington, a first-term Summerville state lawmaker, simply isn’t ready for prime time.

The reporter asked Arrington about offshore drilling, which has become the question of this race. Her statements during the primary — which she has since, uh, clarified — prompted some coastal mayors (at least two of them Republican) to endorse the Democrat.

“Joe Cunningham, the gentleman I’m running against, when I was in the hospital, went and saw the mayors and kinda twisted the truth,” Arrington told MSNBC. Actually, she is more than kinda twisting the truth there. Those Republican mayors publicly endorsed Cunningham three days before her car accident.

Flip flop

Arrington stunned casual observers when she defeated Congressman Mark Sanford in the June Republican primary. Ousting a sitting member of Congress is no easy feat, Sanford’s nonchalance notwithstanding, so the win gave Arrington instant national buzz.

But she spooked some 1st District moderates from the start, declaring in her victory speech that the GOP was the party of “Donald J. Trump.” On Tuesday, she even revealed that she’d had a secret meeting with the president last week. Perhaps to get some campaigning advice.

Since then, she’s been imitating her idol. During the MSNBC interview, she deflected questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election by claiming, seemingly out of nowhere (sound familiar?), that China did it.

How? By making counterfeit MAGA hats?

Then, just like the president, she came back the next day and said of course Russia interfered.

Perhaps the most hypocritical part was when Arrington tried to dodge an MSNBC question about Trump’s alleged affair with a Playboy playmate. Arrington said that she wasn’t judging anyone.

“I’m not Jesus Christ,” she said.

Funny, she sounded pretty judgmental in at least one primary campaign ad this past May, a television spot that lampooned then-Gov. Sanford’s 2009 extramarital affair and his cover story that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

“Mark Sanford and the career politicians cheated on us,” Arrington said in that ad, while out hiking. “We sent him to do a job but he left his post and set off down a long trail towards obstructionism. ... Bless his heart, but it is time for Mark Sanford to take a hike — for real this time.”

But now, she can’t judge.

Moving the needle

The truth is, the 1st District is Arrington’s to lose — and she’s trying her best. The coastal congressional district is drawn to give the GOP about a 10-point advantage, although Trump won the area by less than half that margin in 2016. Still, it should be a cakewalk.

In late June, Arrington was in a horrible car crash that left her seriously injured. Her campaign was put on hold, and Cunningham acted appropriately and promptly. He called for her speedy recovery and canceled all campaign events while she was hospitalized.

But Arrington emerged from the hospital on the attack, claiming Cunningham met with party officials and mailed a fundraising letter before she was released from ICU. The letter was dated the day after she was moved, just prior to the quarterly filing deadline, and political scientists said Cunningham acted appropriately respectful.

Such an aggressive restart to the campaign suggests Arrington’s internal poll numbers are troubling. Even CNN has moved the race from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican.”

And Arrington’s attacks have given Cunningham a pass to resume normal campaigning, although he has wisely avoided engaging her — other than to calmly dispute her claims and sometimes retweet them with a succinct “my opponent.”

Democrats have had no success in the 1st District in a long time, but apparently even a newcomer understands the most basic rule of politics.

When your opponent is self-destructing, stay out of the way and let ‘em.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.