Joe Cunningham says he’ll run for governor. Huh…

As I said, I ran into him a couple of times. This was the last Saturday night of the 2018 election.

As I said, I ran into him a couple of times. This was the last Saturday night of the 2018 election.

… which is my way of saying I’m not sure what I think about it yet. Might have to ponder for awhile.

Of course, I’m very interested in having someone other than Henry McMaster be our governor. I spent more than four months of my life working very long, hard hours trying to bring that about not long ago, but as Mark Twain would say, we got left.

So there’s that.

There’s also the fact that I don’t have anything against Joe, which is something I can’t say about all that many people in politics. So that’s good. And it seems like Joe would have a better shot than most Democrats who might run. And it will have to be a Democrat — you can’t rely on Republicans to come up with anyone more desirable than Henry. They tried hard in 2018, and nearly did it. But I didn’t see anything good to say about the options offered then, and in the Year of our Lord 2021, I look around and think that if they ever managed to dump their incumbent, it would most likely be with someone Trumpier than he is.

I think Henry sees that, too, which is why he runs about saying such stupid things.

On the other hand, I don’t know of much to say for Joe, because he’s so new to public life. In fact, I just watched his announcement video, and when he started talking, I didn’t know it was him. I thought it might be one of those commercials that come up on YouTube before your video. Then I realized it was him, and right after that, I realized I was completely unfamiliar with his voice. I ran into him a couple of times in 2018 (see the pics above and below), but I don’t remember hearing him speak. And as y’all know, I don’t watch TV, and I don’t remember hearing him on NPR.

At my age, 2018 — when I first heard of Joe — feels like about five minutes ago, if that. And when I saw in the Post and Courier that he was planning to run, I got to thinking — what do I know about him before that? Well, not much. So I checked Wikipedia, which has a page about anyone who has served in Congress. Here’s what it said:

Cunningham was born in Caldwell County, Kentucky, and grew up in Kuttawa, Kentucky.[2] He graduated from Lyon County High School in 2000. Cunningham attended the College of Charleston for two years before transferring to Florida Atlantic University in 2002, where he obtained his Bachelor of Science in ocean engineering in 2005.[3][4][5]

Cunningham became an ocean engineer with a consulting company in Naples, Florida, and was laid off after about five years.[3] He spent some time learning Spanish in South America,[4] enrolled in law school at Northern Kentucky University‘s Salmon P. Chase College of Law in 2011, and graduated in 2014.[3][5] He then worked as a construction attorney for Charleston firm Lyle & Lyle and co-owned the Soul Yoga + Wellness yoga studio with his wife before campaigning for political office.[6]

And then, in 2017, he announced he was running for Congress.

So he graduated law school in 2014. And to think, I had thought James Smith was young. Cindi Scoppe wrote about this in 2018:

The three of us chatted about the race, and the family, and I wrote a few paragraphs about it for the next day’s paper. It was the only time I actually referred to Rep. Smith in print by the nickname his now-communications director Brad Warthen and I used privately throughout Brad’s time as The State’s editorial page editor: “young James.”…

After he was elected to the House in 1994, during my first year on the editorial board, I did call him that for quite a few years. Young James was such a kid in those early days — but we watched him grow as a lawmaker, and liked what we saw. (By the way, as James has many times reminded me, we did not endorse him in that first run. We liked him, but we went with his opponent, who was also his first cousin — Republican Robert Adams.)

And no, I didn’t call him that while I was his press guy. Maybe I should have. Maybe we would have won.

We certainly should have won. James had distinguished himself during his 24 years in the House, where he was the minority leader for awhile. Also, he was a war hero, with an amazing backstory. There’s no such thing as a perfect candidate, but he came awfully close. And among the many people who knew him, Republicans as well as Democrats and independents, he was far better respected than the do-nothing Trump lover, Henry McMaster.

But here’s the awful thing about politics: As widely known as you may be, and as deeply respected, that large number of people is a tiny, infinitesimal percentage of the number of people who vote — most of whom don’t know you or much else. They vote more and more by tribal loyalty, and Henry had the imprimatur of the dominant tribe. So that was that.

So would Joe fare better? I dunno. I’m looking for evidence of that, which will give me hope. Of course, conventional wisdom would hold that yes, because “He won on the same day that your James Smith lost.”

Yeah, but I’m not that impressed that he won the 1st District that day. We won in that district, too. So which was it? Did we help him, or did he — and the upswing across the country that day for moderate Democrats running for Congress — help us? I can see good arguments either way.

But I’m going to be looking for signs that Joe can win. Looking eagerly.

The Post and Courier reports that “he plans to fight for policies such as expanding Medicaid, raising the minimum wage and passing police reform.” OK, well, we ran on the first one. The other two have become popular since then — among Democrats. Who are, as you know, a minority in our state. Of course, I’m not crazy that he also promised to pursue term limits, and promises, as George Bush did in 1988 (before reversing himself in office) not to raise taxes.

But I can agree with him completely when he says:

“Gov. McMaster has spent the last year checking off his partisan wish list instead of tackling the real problems in our state. South Carolina desperately needed a strong leader over the last year, but all we had was a weak politician with messed-up priorities.”

We said things like that, too, of course. Anyway, I’ll be watching, listening and hoping I see and hear good things going forward…

Here was the other time I remember -- the day the OTHER Joe campaigned with us in Charleston, Oct. 13, 2018.

Here was the other time I remember — the day the OTHER Joe campaigned with us in Charleston, Oct. 13, 2018. By the way, there’s at least one other person in these pictures I’d RATHER see run. But you can’t always get what you want.

36 thoughts on “Joe Cunningham says he’ll run for governor. Huh…

  1. Doug Ross

    If e Democrat nominee doesn’t run on something other than “paying teachers more” they will lose. Pick some issues that are new: legalizing pot, sports gambling and casinos, and going to a simplified tax code would be a start.

    Wondering how this impacts Mandy Norrell? If she has to run against Cunningham and Mia McLeod, it’s going to be tough.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    2010 Vincent Sheheen: He got 47.1% of the vote — Lost to Haley

    2014 Vincent Sheheen (again) He got 41.4% of the vote — Lost to Haley (again)

    2018: James Smith He got 45.9% of the vote — Lost to McMaster

    Is Cunningham a departure from that? Not sure. He seems like the same song, different verse. Not making any value judgments, here. Just saying…

    1. Doug Ross

      They are all cut from the same cloth. Although Cunningham’s pending divorce would seem to be something the political sleazebag consultants in this state will be fodder for whisper campaigns. If the Democrats decide to put up another white guy with the same platform of “schools, generic job creation, and diversity lip service” they’ll get the same 42-47% result they always get. How about we just stipulate the Democratic candidate wants smaller class sizes, more spending on public schools, higher teacher pay and just move onto something else?

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, I should add that while she joined me in calling him that, Cindi is only about four years older than Young James. She started working with me when she was 23. I remember that because she’s 10 years younger than I am, so the math is easy.

    And we celebrated James’ 51st birthday during the campaign.

    These kids…

  4. bud

    Not sure we should dismiss Doug’s suggestion out of hand. The marijuana thing should have some appeal to libertarian types. Same for the casinos. Sheheen and Smith really were pretty dull. Which is not a bad thing. It’s worked for Biden. But in a state this conservative dull is not going to get it done. At the very least a Democrat must stress medical marijuana and infrastructure pointing out the complete failure of Governor slumlord. Cunningham is an environmentalist which should play well on the coast. I don’t think Cunningham is a veteran so thankfully we’d be spared endless touting of that irrelevancy. Not sure any Democrat can win but perhaps with a charismatic candidate with bold ideas and the right political environment an upset could happen. Doug Jones pulled it off. If McMaster pulls some crazy stunt that could embolden minorities to turn out. It would take a perfect storm.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “Doug Jones pulled it off.”

      Um, I hadn’t realized that Henry was a child molester. Why didn’t we use THAT in the campaign?…

      But seriously, folks…

      You do realize Jones only won by 1.7 percentage points over the child molester, right? And that the first time he faced an opponent who was NOT a child molester, he got CREAMED.

      Anyway, basically, he didn’t get to serve two-thirds of a Senate term because he was a “charismatic candidate with bold ideas…”

      1. Barry

        I voted for Smith but Doug is right

        He ran a boring campaign with no bold ideas.

        Doug and I disagree all the time, but he’s 100% right on what a democrat should run on to have a good chance at winning.

        Anything else is just a trip to McDonalds with the intent to order a fish taco.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          OK, first… James did not run “a boring campaign with no bold ideas.”

          Do you have any ideas — ideas that have ANY chance of becoming reality in SC — that would do more good, for more people, than expanding Medicaid? Something that is never going to happen as long as the GOP controls both the Legislature and the governor’s office? I don’t have any better ideas than that. I’ve got some good ones, but nothing I can say would do more good than that — or a higher hill to climb.

          And we ran on it, as hard as we could, day after day. Other things, too, but nothing as emphatically as that.

          So that’s first.

          Second, if James had run on NO ideas, I’d have been for him.

          It’s kind of like with Joe Biden. I didn’t care what Joe did once elected. I didn’t need to hear a single proposal from him. Aside from the fact that compared to Trump, almost any halfway rational person would have been a vast improvement (as James would have been compared to Henry), the thing was that among the people interested, Joe was the most perfect candidate possible.

          I wanted him to be my president because no matter what the issue, he had the knowledge, experience, intelligence and basic decency to deal with it properly. Would I always agree with him? No — I can’t say that about anyone. But I knew I would be pleased with him in that post, day after day.

          The fact that he is doing so much — more than anyone since FDR, or at least LBJ — wasn’t necessary, but I’m fine with it. I trust Joe.

          Same with James. He would have been a good governor, all around, period. As he said so often on the campaign trail, he actually wanted to DO the job, and knew how to do it, while Henry just wanted to KEEP the job, and wear the label of “governor.”

          And since he wore the label of “Republican,” he got to do that. No ideas, no demonstration of plans or willingness to accomplish anything whatsoever. Just being a Republican…

          1. bud

            Barry and Doug are correct. Smith’s campaign was excruciatingly boring. Those endless references to his military service were very tedious.

              1. bud

                Of course you miss the point. Being a military veteran is great. But it’s really not something voters consider when voting. And seeing it over and over and over during a campaign makes the candidate look needy. Voters want substance not irrelevant pap.

              2. Barry

                The fact Smith served was great. it destroyed the Republican argument that try to put over on people that they are the only ones that serve.

                It wasn’t nearly enough.

          2. Doug Ross

            “expanding Medicaid”

            Oooh… I’m getting all tingly thinking about that! Hose me down!

            You miss the point that expanding Medicaid doesn’t impact that many voters (especially the ones who aren’t pure Democrats). To make that the focal point of a campaign for ALL South Carolina was a tactical mistake. What are the biggest issues nearly all voters care about: taxes and jobs. Everything else flows off of that.

            I’ve said it before many times.. James Smith may be a nice guy but he has zero charisma… same for Sheheen. Mandy was the bright light in the room every time they were together — I think had they flipped the ticket with her on top, they would have had a better shot.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Yeah, Doug, we know you don’t care about expanding Medicaid. You’ve said so MANY times.

              Although I should add something here, for anyone who doesn’t get it, that expanding Medicaid benefits everybody, not just those who get coverage (or Democrats). It means you have fewer people avoiding medical care until they are extremely sick and have to go to the ER, which costs us all a fortune, and missing work or potentially becoming permanently disabled — which also costs the rest of us.

              I always feel silly explaining that, because every adult should understand it. But I do have to, over and over. And that, folks, is one of the big things wrong with America. Since Reagan, we’ve had a couple of generations now growing up thinking that what happens to other people doesn’t affect them, so they should just look out for No. 1. And they’ve gotten more and more radical about that ever since.

              So why I, for one, didn’t care whether Joe DID anything big or not, I’m very proud of him for going for broke, using all the power and political capital he has, trying to reverse all that damage to our country…

              1. Doug Ross

                I don’t believe I have ever said I am opposed to expanding Medicaid other than the concerns of the costs once the full burden is shifted to the states. I would guess there is plenty of data now to prove how great an idea it has been with other states — except I’m not interested in finding that out because it isn’t interesting to me.

                You continue to miss the point. Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it resonates with enough people to get them to switch their votes. The goal is to win the election, not win the debates or get the “nice guy” Mr. Congeniality title.

                Democratic party leadership in this state is abysmal. They keep rehashing the same ideas over and over and expect a different outcome. Look at Jamie Harrison — if there ever was an example of having EVERY advantage to win and blowing it with a braindead campaign, he was it. He had all the money in the world and a seriously damaged opponent. And then he blew it. And the same jokers who ran his campaign will likely attach themselves like parasites to the next Governor candidate and get rich losing again.

            2. bud

              Expanding Medicaid has an impact on everyone who has health insurance by limiting the amount of unpaid medical costs that doctors and hospitals have to absorb and then pass along. That’s a lot of people.

              1. Doug Ross

                As I said, it may be a great idea but it is not something that the general voting public cares about no matter how many ways you try to explain it. They aren’t going to see that savings in their paycheck… their own medical bills will still be high… it’s an invisible fix.

                Legalize sports gambling like 20+ other states have and you will have a lot of people talking about it — and likely pull in votes from the independent / Republican side — because many of them are already betting illegally.

                Legalize pot and you’ll see big changes: tax revenues go up, police harassment goes down

                1. Doug Ross

                  Colorado is only a little bit larger population-wise than SC. They are bringing in $300 million a year in marijuana tax revenue. How about we do that and target all the money to K-12 schools? That actually addresses the Democrat education funding issue directly.

          3. Barry

            It was boring Brad. I voted for him, but it was boring.

            To win as a Democrat in South Carolina, you’ve got to do a P T Barnum.

            You’ve got to be James Carville after 20 cups of coffee. You’ve got to call McMaster a slumlord to his face on stage and tell the media you were being too kind.

            You’ve got to accuse him of hating teachers, of wanting to get rid of all of them. You’ve got to call him the enemy of teachers.

            To win, you’ve got to promise to work every day to reform or dismantle the DOT. You’ve got to accuse them of screwing taxpayers, you’ve got to accuse their leadership of padding their own pockets, and standing in the way of paving granny’s road.

            You’ve got to say that, even as a Democrat, the federal folks better “keep their stinking noses out of our gun laws or they’ll be sued.”

            Plus, you have to embrace some of the stuff Doug talked about.

            How did Jim Hodges win? Jim was about as boring a guy as there was- but he ate, drank, slept the lottery and crammed it down everyone’s throats. You couldn’t turn on the faucet at home to wash dishes without hearing “the education lottery” in your head.

            And his mini-me Kevin Geddings turned every discussion/issue/idea into a discussion about the lottery. Have an issue with your road, the lottery would help education and eventually get your road fixed.

            If any politician or official said anything negative about the lottery, Kevin Gettings and Jim Hodges replied within a few hours and crammed it back down their throat.

            Your job sucks? The lottery would help keep kids at home to go to school and that would help your job prospects because those kids would stay home and create jobs.

            It was a great strategy, and it worked.

            1. Barry

              Oh, and Clark mentioned it

              But a democrat can do well accusing the press of wanting to make South Carolina citizens look bad.

              Run against MSNBC and CNN, the Post and The NY Times and mention how they always try to make us look bad.

              Repeat it 500 times.

                1. Barry

                  A campaign From a democrat of “we make ourselves look bad” will result in a McMaster win.

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              Sure. If all that matters is making a Democrat win.

              That’s not the point for me. The point is electing someone who would be a good governor. That’s not PT Barnum.

              Lots of Democrats think such trickery is worthwhile, if it gets one of those people into office. There are many who will never forgive me for opposing Jim when he went from being the most articulate opponent of the horrible idea of a state lottery to embracing it with all his might, because Kevin Geddings said he could “win” that way. Well, so be it.

              It’s not about this team or that team “winning.” It’s about conducting our public life, and running our government, in a serious, responsible manner.

              I go for candidates like Joe Biden. A plain, honest and highly qualified man who simply offers himself, with the quiet virtues he possesses. That’s what I want in a president, and that’s what I want in a governor.

              I don’t want someone who says, “Hey, I want to do good stuff, and we won’t have to pay for it! Look at these magic beans! We’ll trick deluded poor people into paying for it! It’ll be great!” I want someone who says, “We need to do this worthwhile thing, and here are the taxes that will pay for it.” You know, like a grownup.

              It’s not just what I want. It’s what we NEED. Finally, we have it on the national level. How we’re going to get there in South Carolina, I don’t know. James offered a chance of it. I don’t know when our next chance will come…

              1. Barry

                “ That’s not the point for me. The point is electing someone who would be a good governor.”

                Brad, you have to WIN to be a good governor.

                Sitting at home after an election loss Is not very empowering

        2. Doug Ross

          It’s a pretty simple equation – the Democrat will get an automatic 42% no matter who it is or what he/she says. The ONLY way to win is to get 8% of the rest to get onboard. By the time the election rolls around, McMaster’s COVID performance is going to be in the rearview mirror. There will be consultants who will convince their candidate to dredge that back up again. That would be a mistake. In the end, SC did about average with COVID and it’s doubtful any other governor could have done much different.

          I won’t be voting for McMaster but I also won’t make the same mistake I did with Smith and vote for a boring second choice.

          I’m more hopeful that the end of the Hugh Leatherman era appears to be near.

      2. bud

        No, Henry is not a child molester. But he does have baggage as a slumlord. Plus he’s been a terrible Governor. Those things are not enough. Doug Jones benefitted from his prosecution of the 16th street Baptist Church bombing which generated a huge black voter turnout. But I’m no Pollyiana. Winning in SC is a daunting task. But a perfect storm could make it happen.

  5. clark surratt

    Unless things change, the same issues, basically Trump issues, are going to prevail in South Carolina among white voters: Race, religion. guns, anti-government, anti-press. There are lots of subtopics under these headings, pretty easy to figure out.

  6. Doug Ross

    Democrats will likely use the same failed strategy of running AGAINST McMaster instead of running FOR the office of Governor. Millions of dollars will be spent on ads rehashing whatever spin they can fit into 30 seconds to rehash McMaster’s past. Imagine a candidate who looked forward instead of backward. Harrison spent $100 million running mostly against Trump — trying to convince a group of people who voted for him that they were stupid. Running a campaign based on “I’m not him” is useless — EVERYONE is “not him” so all you are saying is you are no better than anyone else. Voters want leaders, not finger pointers. I want a candidate who says “I don’t care what the last guy did, this is what I have done and what I will do.”

  7. Kathleen

    The governorship is an uphill battle for a Democrat right now. Losing to Nancy Mace, an even less tried office holder, is not a good omen for Cunningham. Winning will call for an almost perfect storm. Doug’s statistics are on point. The Democratic leaning population beyond the 42% need to be engaged enough to actually vote along with a few from the rest of the political spectrum. Barry’s tactical advice needs to be employed to some degree. The proper degree of tone will call for the political sagacity of Solomon. Trump has almost succeeded in returning SC to the one party state of my childhood with all of it’s siege and “us vs them” mentality on unapologetic, even proud, display.

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