LP 110618 Joe Cunningham Party_009.JPG (copy)

Incoming U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham greets supporters at American Theater on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

During the 2018 midterm elections, few national political watchers had their eyes on South Carolina's 1st Congressional District.

But the reliably Republican district stunned the state and the country when it flipped to Democratic control, making it one of the nation's most dramatic and unexpected finishes.

The district, which has been a GOP stronghold for four decades, soon will be represented by Democrat Joe Cunningham, a West Ashley construction law attorney who has never held elected office.

Cunningham won by defeating Republican challenger Katie Arrington, a one-term state lawmaker from Summerville who had bested U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford in the GOP primary in June. President Donald Trump backed Arrington with a late afternoon tweet on the day of the primary.

The general election turned even more compelling when Arrington was critically injured in a head-on collision 10 days after her June primary win.

She remained in the race and doubled down her commitment to supporting Trump's conservative agenda. Cunningham emphasized that people are tired of partisan rhetoric and political divide. Offshore drilling became a big litmus test voters used to decide between the two.

The race was very close. At 2 a.m., seven hours after the polls closed and a few hours after both candidates had already told their supporters to head home, Cunningham was declared the winner. 

Election forecasters at FiveThirtyEight now characterize it as one of the biggest upsets in the 2018 midterm cycle.


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Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.