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Democrat Joe Cunningham, center, is congratulated by Cole Adams, left, and Destiny Adams, right, after a celebratory press conference Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018 at ILA Hall in Charleston. Cunningham won the South Carolina 1st congressional District seat over Republican Kate Arrington. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Joe Cunningham hasn't been sworn in yet as South Carolina's next Democratic congressman, but already he's gearing up for a 2020 re-election bid.

In the weeks since his stunning victory in the state's coastal and historically Republican-led 1st Congressional District, Cunningham has been looking to capitalize — literally — on his win.

Since last month, the Cunningham campaign has sent several emails to supporters with subject lines like "Joe could be in trouble" and "Already on defense."

"I know that the rest of the team is still on Cloud 9 from our historic victory a few weeks ago, but we can’t take our win for granted — especially because it was such a close race," a Nov. 28 email from campaign spokesman Tyler Jones said.

"Mark my words: in 2020 this race will be extremely competitive again," it added.

Another email, sent just two days later, warned Cunningham backers, "we can't let Joe be a 'one-term wonder' (his words)."

A post-election report filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission shows why Cunningham has been asking his supporters to open up their checkbooks for him yet again.

Though Cunningham raised $2.3 million in his first-ever political bid, the filing also shows he went all-in to win and spent around $2.2 million.

Cunningham reportedly has $11,116 left in the bank, according to the filing that covers Oct. 18 through Nov. 26.

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Republican candidate Katie Arrington and Democratic candidate Joe Cunningham, running U.S. House South Carolina District 1, held a discussion at the Charleston Leaders Quarterly Meeting Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 in Mount Pleasant. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Katie Arrington, the Republican challenger Cunningham bested by a narrow 3,982 votes, raised $1.2 million in her unsuccessful bid for the open seat currently held by departing U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford.

Arrington spent $1.5 million and has $16,342 left over, according to FEC filings.

After Arrington made a series of personal loans, which totaled north of $400,000, the latest federal report also showed the campaign still owes her $218,150.

The Cunningham campaign did not report any debts.

Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman Brady Quirk-Garvan said Cunningham's requests for dollars so soon after the election should come as no surprise.

"Two years until re-election is not that far away in the grand scheme of things," he said. "Certainly, fundraising is going to be constant from now until 2020."

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Cunningham, a 36-year-old construction attorney, can thank Charleston for putting him over the top in the closely contested congressional race that election forecasters at FiveThirtyEight now characterize as one of the biggest upsets in the 2018 midterm election cycle.

The district, where President Donald Trump won by 13 percentage points in 2016, wraps around parts of Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, Colleton and Beaufort counties.

Arrington won in Berkeley, Dorchester, Colleton and Beaufort counties, but Cunningham bested her in Charleston County — the most populous county in the district. He snagged about 57 percent of the vote there.

Quirk-Garvan said the Charleston Democratic Party spent about $100,000 this election cycle to turn out solid Democratic voters. He said that allowed for Cunningham to focus his efforts on making inroads with independent and swing voters. 

And with a district that has not sent a Democrat to Congress in almost four decades, Quirk-Garvan said the Cunningham campaign had no choice but to invest heavily if they wanted to win.

"I think that's the only way to run these days," Quirk-Garvan said. 

Sanford had $1.5 million left in his campaign account when he lost his Republican primary to Arrington in June.

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.