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Joe Cunningham confirms plans to run for SC governor; announcement set for April 26

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Former US Rep. Joe Cunningham. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham confirmed to The Post and Courier that he will announce his 2022 campaign for governor of South Carolina on April 26.

The move puts an end to months of speculation about whether the ambitious one-term congressman would enter the political arena again. Now, he's challenging Republican Gov. Henry McMaster in a bid to become the first Democrat in the South Carolina governor's mansion since 1998. 

"I think the test of a true leader is whether or not you'll be honest with people about the real challenges facing our state and have the backbone to actually fix them," Cunningham said in an exclusive interview with The Post and Courier on April 25. "McMaster failed that test, but I won't." 

Cunningham told The Post and Courier he's been mulling a run since last November when his one term in Congress came to an end. 

"I've been thinking about what kind of future I want my son and other children and grandchildren to have here in this state," Cunningham said. "I love this state and I will make sure that we're living up to our God-given potential."

Cunningham was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, making history by flipping South Carolina's 1st Congressional District seat from four decades of Republican control. 

But Cunningham’s tenure in Washington was short-lived.

In 2020, U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Charleston, was declared the victor by The Associated Press on election night after she carried the district by 1 percentage point, a margin of 5,000 votes. Cunningham waited three days before he formally conceded the race.

It's been 129 days since Cunningham gave his farewell speech to Congress, doing so by cracking a beer on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Since his defeat, Cunningham has remained in the spotlight and dropped repeated hints about his run for governor. 

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In late December, a URL for "cunninghamforgovernor.com" was registered. While the former congressman's team wouldn't confirm if it was theirs, social media stoked the speculation. 

Cunningham told The Post and Courier at that time he wanted to stay in South Carolina and hoped to serve the public in some capacity.

Several weeks later, Cunningham teased a "big announcement" on Twitter. On Feb. 1, he played off the hype to unveil his podcast titled “Joint Resolution,” which is focused on bipartisan politics. 

Cunningham has also been directing his focus on state-level issues and has taken to twitter to call out the South Carolina Statehouse and McMaster on issues ranging from teacher pay and anti-abortion moves to gun legislation and expanding health benefits. 

Earlier this week, Cunningham's run seemed more likely after preliminary campaign paperwork was submitted to the state Ethics Commission. The former congressman didn't publicly comment about the filing. But S.C. GOP Chairman Drew McKissick welcomed the challenge when he heard about Cunningham's paperwork. 

"Democrat Joe Cunningham wants to run for governor? We say 'bring it on,' " McKissick said. "We expect to see the same result in 2022 as we did in 2018 — a Republican in the governor's mansion."

Cunningham is confident he can win in 2022. 

"We flipped a gerrymandered seat that voted for Donald Trump by 13 points and it was called one of the biggest upsets in South Carolina's history," Cunningham said. "I've got a history of greatly over performing the top of the ticket and that's what's going take to win statewide."

More details about Cunningham's candidacy and platform will be released this week. He said he is planning a 46 county-wide tour to meet voters and share his message.

Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5713. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

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