Editor's note: This column was written on Tuesday night's print deadline, at a point when Katie Arrington had a lead in the polls. Joe Cunningham was declared the winner after 2 a.m. The column was updated this morning.
South Carolina didn’t see a blue wave, but the isolated flooding in Charleston was enough for Joe Cunningham.
Nearly all the people expected to win in Tuesday’s midterms prevailed, much to the surprise of excited new voters — and much as expected by the political class.
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The results in South Carolina looked pretty much like they always do: Republicans in the mid-50s, Democrats in the mid-40s. The vote totals changed, the results remained the same.
Except, notably, in Charleston. Which today looks like a blue island in the red sea.
For all the young people who engaged and voted in the midterms, there were one or two senior citizens or suburbanites who cast a ballot — most of them for the party that has announced plans to cut their Social Security.
There’s no accounting for voting against your self-interest.
So, why did the Republicans prevail in most places where Democrats thought they had their strongest candidates? Well, it’s because the Republicans are simply better at politics than the Democrats.
And this status quo will remain in place until Democrats stop allowing the GOP to define them. Or people quit believing propaganda on the internet and cable news.
In other words, don’t hold your breath.
Hysteria sells, in some places
While most pundits expected Democrats to take back the U.S. House, few gave Joe Cunningham much chance of winning.
The 1st District is drawn by the South Carolina Legislature with an 11-point Republican advantage; it makes it difficult for a Democrat to compete.
Cunningham ran a positive campaign, never once supported offshore drilling and even won the endorsement of several coastal Republicans. He always acted like a level-headed, mature adult.
It was the best Democratic campaign the 1st has seen in a long time, still nobody expected him to prevail because of built-in GOP advantages. And the early returns bore that out.
So what happened?
Katie Arrington made Cunningham look even better by comparison.
Credit Arrington’s internal pollsters for realizing the race was a lot closer than it was rigged to be. And it showed in her campaign.
For most of the race, she ran around the district screaming about this race being a fight between “good and evil” in a car that even the Dukes of Hazzard would have called tacky.
But Arrington not only knew her polling looked bad, she knew that crazy politics is in vogue these days. So she ran just like President Trump did in 2016 … and still is.
In the process, she turned off a lot of people, including Republicans who — unable to vote for a Democrat — wrote in Mark Sanford. Even Dorchester County, Arrington’s home, was much closer than it should have been.
If she had ran a less nasty campaign, Republicans say, she would have had it.
This is not a country of majority-rule, it is a country controlled by people who show up to vote.
Tuesday proved that. Well, that and the fact that polls are generally worthless.
Florida elected a goofball governor whose campaign ads featured child abuse (if you count reading “The Art of the Deal” to an infant) and Tennessee gave nutty Marsha Blackburn a promotion to the Senate.
And through it all, South Carolina remained as ruby red as Dorothy’s slippers. Except in the 1st District, where enough Republicans said enough Trumpism and contributed to the Democrat takeover of the U.S. House.
It wasn’t good when the Democrats controlled everything in this state, and it’s not a good thing now that their descendants have hijacked the Republican Party. But the GOP and Fox News have convinced low-information voters that Democrats want to open the borders to ISIS and raise taxes on everyone while the Republicans want to keep them safe and cut taxes.
The rest of that sentence — “for the rich” — will only become evident on April 15.
Cunningham’s victory might have shown Dems the way to run a successful campaign in South Carolina, but it also illustrates the nearly insurmountable hurdles they have to overcome.
Arrington won every county in the 1st District except Charleston, but by much smaller than expected margins.
For Dems to compete in the future, they will not only have to run a positive campaign like Cunningham’s, they’ll need an assist from an unpalatable opponent.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.