U.S. House South Carolina District 1 candidates Katie Arrington and Joe Cunningham

U.S. House South Carolina District 1 candidates Katie Arrington and Joe Cunningham appeared at the Charleston Leaders Quarterly Meeting on Nov. 5, 2018 in Mount Pleasant. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

South Carolina Republicans are certain they can win back the 1st Congressional District seat they lost to a Democrat last month because they are already planning their victory efforts.

S.C. GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said Wednesday he envisions having dedicated full-time staffers working at multiple offices in the Charleston and coastal seat as early as this spring.

He called it "the 1st District reclamation project" and said it will be the state party's top focus heading into the 2020 election.

Though national Republican organizations — and their money — stayed largely out of the congressional race in 2018 until the final two weeks of the campaign, McKissick said he's not worried about history repeating itself.

"Do I think we will have a commitment from national Republican organizations? Abso-freaking-lutely," McKissick said.

"I have not seen a list, but I would imagine the 1st District is at the very top of any list, of any Republican seat, in any national list as an identified asset to take back in 2020," he said.

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

McKissick said the loss shocked GOP voters and that the party's upcoming February meeting will focus on creating a plan to win back the seat.

Sign up for updates!

Get the latest political news from The Post and Courier in your inbox.


McKissick would not say if the party has any formal candidate recruitment efforts under way, insisting the speculation is "putting the horse way ahead of the buggy."

But speculation over who will run on the Republican side has begun. 

Last week, Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert announced his plans to run for the seat as a Republican. Some have wondered if Arrington, who bested U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford in the June Republican primary, will run again.

Democrats will be waiting. Cunningham spokesman Tyler Jones said they know the congressman-elect will be one of the most targeted members in the 2020 cycle.

"For Republicans to be lining up to run against him before he has even been sworn in or taken his first vote is exactly why Joe won the election," Jones said. "Maybe they should wait to see what kind of member he's going to be before they announce their campaign against him."

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.