McKissick East Cooper

South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick speaks to members of the East Cooper Republican Club Monday, July 15, 2019 after outlining the state party's plans to win back the 1st Congressional District. McKissick said it's the earliest the state party has ever begun any field operation in its history. Caitlin Byrd/Staff

MOUNT PLEASANT — South Carolina Republicans are so eager to win back Charleston's congressional seat that they're getting started a year early.

State party Chairman Drew McKissick on Monday announced the GOP will soon have a "full-blown, full-time, field organization" in Charleston focused on winning the 1st Congressional District held by Democrat Joe Cunningham. 

"This stuff doesn't just happen. Victories don't just fall out of trees," McKissick told about 55 people who attended an East Cooper Republican Club lunch.

Cunningham defeated Republican Katie Arrington in a stunning upset in November, beating her by a narrow 3,982 votes to become the first Democrat to represent the coastal seat in decades.

Only in retrospect could Republicans see that Charleston was the battleground county they needed; it was the only county in the district Arrington lost. The district includes parts of Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, Colleton and Beaufort counties.

Cunningham campaign spokesman Tyler Jones played up what he called the congressman's independent streak and his work on behalf of Lowcountry families. "That’s why a bipartisan coalition of voters in the 1st Congressional District will vote to keep Joe on the job next November,” he said,

Outlining the so-named "victory program," McKissick said the effort will focus on three things: beefing up the Republican manpower and network in the district; doubling down on getting the GOP message out to voters; and raising money.

The goal is to have field operations up and running by August, giving the party 10 months to raise money and energize voters before Republican voters even pick their congressional nominee.

A permanent field director will be hired in the coming weeks, and party leaders have narrowed the field of applicants to about four people. Other staffers will then be hired in other areas of the district, including Beaufort, Hilton Head Island and Mount Pleasant.

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The state-backed efforts will be getting national help. The National Republican Congressional Committee has identified the 1st Congressional District as one of 55 targeted House districts it wants to flip in 2020. 

All of the Republican members of South Carolina's Washington delegation have also committed to the effort, McKissick said.

"I've talked to all of them personally, and they want to do what they can in conjunction with the NRCC to help raise money from their donors in their districts that will help fund the victory program," McKissick said.

The Republican candidates who have announced bids to try to unseat Cunningham include: Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert; Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox; Hilton Head Island teacher Logan Cunningham (no relation to the Democratic incumbent); Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing; and state Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island.

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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