1st District debate turns on missed votes; working mothers

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s most competitive U.S. House race also became its nastiest Monday night as U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham accused his Republican challenger of missing dozens of votes in the South Carolina House last week.

State Rep. Nancy Mace repeated several times during Monday’s first debate between the 1st Congressional District candidates that she was a single mother trying to handle homeschooling for her children.

“You should be ashamed of yourself and disqualified because of this personal attack,” Mace said.

The candidates went back and forth, mostly ignoring the questions from the moderators for more than 15 minutes.

Cunningham took a question about the Black Lives Matter movement and whether he supported protests. He turned it into a question about how Mace can say she supported police and first responders when she missed a vote last week in the South Carolina House that gave supplemental insurance for firefighters who get cancer.

“She missed 55 votes just last week. If she can’t show up and do her job here in Columbia, she’s not going to be able to do her job in D.C.,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham stunned South Carolina in 2018 by becoming the first Democrat to win the district that stretches from Charleston along the coast to Hilton Head Island in 40 years. He also was the first new Democrat from South Carolina to go to Congress since Jim Clyburn in 1992.

Cunningham has spent his first term trying not to deny his Democratic roots but also reaching out to the moderate Republicans who support protecting the environment and cringe at harsh partisan attacks — the formula which won him the seat.

Cunningham reminded voters Monday that his first vote was against U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi retaining her post.

“If you want politics to be more partisan, more toxic and more divisive, Nancy Mace is probably your candidate,” Cunningham said.

When Mace mentioned her opponent Monday, more often than not she said “Democrat Joe Cunningham.”

“You can’t be independent when you vote with Nancy Pelosi 90% of the time,” Mace said.

Mace was the first woman to graduate from The Citadel. She has been a South Carolina House member for three years after her first political run — finishing fifth in a seven-candidate Republican primary against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2014.

The issue that may pushed Cunningham over the top in 2018 was his opposition to offshore drilling. He made it his priority in the U.S. House, which passed his bill.

Mace made sure her opposition for drilling was known before President Donald Trump suddenly changed his position earlier this year for states that supported him in 2016.

The main environmental issue the candidates clashed over Monday was climate change, sea level rise and flooding in Charleston, which sees flooded roads an average of more than once a week, sometimes in sunny weather.

Mace said she isn’t certain climate change is real because scientists have changed their minds before and there are many more pressing issues facing the country,

“Scientists once said the earth is flat. It is not,” Mace said.

Cunningham said when he is home in Charleston the flooding is “in your face.”

“I am going to say what my opponent Nancy Mace won’t say,” Cunningham said. “I believe in science.”


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.


AP’s Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/