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Democrat Joe Cunningham punches back at GOP attacks in first 2020 campaign ad

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Cunningham ad 1

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham (right) is up with a new TV ad in his 2020 reelection effort. The ad seeks to counter GOP attack ads that have been running in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. Screenshot.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham's first 2020 reelection TV ad is designed to counter the slew of anti-impeachment ads airing in his 1st Congressional District. 

The ad, shared first with The Post and Courier, begins airing on cable and broadcast TV in the Charleston area Wednesday and will stay up for three weeks.

The 30-second spot, called "That's Joe," opens with the words "Dark Money Attack Ads" rolling across a black background.

"They're airing across the country. Attack ads so phony even late-night TV made fun of them," a male voice says as a compilation of clips from three anti-impeachment ads appear on the bottom of the screen.

The footage comes from three different ads from the American Action Network, an outside group that is promoting House Republicans.

"Now they're attacking Joe Cunningham," the voice-over says before pivoting to the next phase of the ad, "but Joe kept his word."

Cunningham's six-figure ad buy comes as Republicans are on the air hitting him on impeachment, though Cunningham's TV spot makes no mention of his vote to impeach President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Instead, the ad spends the remaining 16 seconds highlighting Cunningham's legislative accomplishments in Washington, specifically his bill to ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic, a pair of bills to help veterans, and his vote against a congressional pay raise.

The ad closes by saying, "That's Joe" before noting Cunningham was named one of America's most independent members of Congress by CQ Roll Call.

On Friday, the American Action Network announced it was spending $175,000 on a new ad against Cunningham that would run over the course of four weeks on both broadcast television and digital media.

This sets up a back-and-forth television ad war across screens in the district, a sign of things to come in what is expected to be a battleground U.S. House race.

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"If the special interests are going to lie about Joe's record, we are going to tell the truth. And that's what we are doing here," Tyler Jones, a spokesman for the Cunningham campaign, told The Post and Courier.

Joe Jackson, the Republican National Committee’s South Carolina spokesman, refuted the claims of the Cunningham ad.

"It’s completely laughable that Joe Cunningham is claiming to be an 'independent representative.' He votes with Nancy Pelosi over 85 percent of the time and he followed his party in supporting a completely partisan impeachment case," Jackson said in a statement provided to The Post and Courier.

Cunningham is not the first local candidate to air an ad in the 2020 congressional race.

Republican Kathy Landing, one of Cunningham's five announced Republican challengers, was the first in the GOP field to go up on TV.

She cast herself as Cunningham’s rightful challenger in a November ad that aired during the state's biggest college football game of the year: the South Carolina-Clemson game.

The other GOP contenders currently include: Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert, Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox, state Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island, and self-described community development leader Brad Mole of Bluffton.

Both Republicans and Democrats see the 1st Congressional District race as a top 2020 priority.

The district covers the South Carolina coastline from Charleston south, with boundaries wrapping around parts of Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, Colleton and Beaufort counties.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has labeled the upcoming 2020 House race as a tossup.

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.

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