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GOP candidate in first TV ad suggests Democrat Joe Cunningham's impeachment vote was bought

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Kathy Landing Podium (copy)

Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing will release her first TV ad this weekend in her congressional campaign. The ad centers on U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-Charleston, and his vote on impeachment. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

A Republican in South Carolina's most competitive U.S. House race is releasing her first television ad of the 2020 congressional campaign, casting herself as Democrat Joe Cunningham's rightful challenger some seven months out from the GOP primary.

In a sign that Kathy Landing is seeking to introduce herself to as many voters as possible, the 30-second spot will air Saturday during the state's biggest college football game of the year: the South Carolina-Clemson game.

The 30-second ad buy cost $4,500 on ESPN, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission.

Called "Real Quid Pro Quo," the commercial focuses on Cunningham's recent vote for the House impeachment inquiry.

In it, Landing implies that Cunningham's vote was bought by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, the California Democrat leading the effort. Federal filings show Cunningham has received $4,000 from Schiff's congressional campaign this cycle.

"Our congressman filled his campaign coffers with money from Adam Schiff, then voted for the impeachment inquiry. Is that the real quid pro quo?" the Mount Pleasant town councilwoman states. 

The ad attempts to turn the central question in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry on its head.

The investigation in the House has been focused on determining if the Trump administration tried to get Ukraine to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for foreign aid.

Landing also seeks to contrast her priorities with that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Landing says is focused on "conspiracies, gridlock and impeachment." Landing then promises she will focus on fixing infrastructure, balancing budgets, lowering health-care costs and encouraging the economy.

"Let's show Schiff that the Lowcountry is not for sale," Landing says at the end of the ad, looking directly into the camera.

While the ad will debut during the longest continuously running football rivalry in the South, it will continue to air on Comcast and digital channels districtwide for at least a week, said Landing campaign spokesman Michael Mulé.

With her commercial, Landing becomes the first congressional candidate in the GOP field to go up on TV. She is one of five Republican challengers trying to unseat Cunningham, who in 2018 became the first Democrat to win Charleston's coastal congressional seat in four decades.

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The other GOP contenders currently include: Beaufort County Council member 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.

Landing, who has more than 30 years of experience in financial planning, decided to take on Cunningham over concerns that the district's conservative interests would not be represented in Washington by a Democrat. 

The Cunningham campaign refuted the ad's main assertion and noted Cunningham has supported Republican calls to bring the hearings into the open. His campaign manager, Allie Watters, also said Cunningham is withholding judgment on impeachment until he reviews all available evidence.

"While his political opponents continue to grasp for straws and mislead voters about Joe’s record, he’ll continue to be one of the most independent members of Congress focused on results for the Lowcountry," Waters said in a statement.

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

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the main House GOP fundraising arm, put the district on its list of 55 House districts it is targeting. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this summer promised to make a major investment in South Carolina, with an acute focus on defending the coastal district.

Along with a national push, the South Carolina Republican Party hired two key staffers to lead a full-time field operation focused on winning back the district that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.

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

S.C. GOP Chair Drew McKissick has said Cunningham's seat is a "must-win" for Republicans if they hope to regain control of the House, where Democrats currently control the chamber 233-197. 

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has labeled the upcoming 2020 House race as a toss-up.

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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