E&E News
November 7, 2018

By Rob Hotakainen, E&E News reporter

Democrat Joe Cunningham, a political novice and former ocean engineer, scored a big upset in South Carolina early today after making opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing a top issue in his

Cunningham won in the state’s coastal 1st District, which was drawn to favor Republicans. Rep. Mark Sanford (R) holds the seat now but was ousted in the June GOP primary by Kate Arrington.

It marked the first time Democrats had flipped a House seat in South Carolina since 1986.

“This is an amazing result,” said Frank Knapp, president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and a leading drilling opponent. “Those of us who went to bed at 12 o’clock last night thought we’d wake up to find the Republican had won that seat. We were all shocked.”

The race was called at 2 a.m., with Cunningham getting slightly more than 50 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.

President Trump’s plans to allow more drilling off the coast of South Carolina have drawn overwhelming opposition in the state in the past two years, particularly in coastal regions where environmental worries run high.

As the campaign closed, Arrington allied herself closely with Trump, calling for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and tighter immigration controls, while Cunningham focused mainly on the drilling issue and
protecting the state’s beaches.

“We put a lot of effort in the district to make offshore drilling a top issue,” Knapp said.

On his campaign website, Cunningham said offshore drilling and seismic testing “would be devastating to our environment and our economy.” And he said his prior work was aimed at “ensuring the marine environment was protected.”

“As an ocean engineer, I know firsthand how destructive drilling for oil — and even just testing for oil — can be to a coastline,” Cunningham said. “That’s the last thing we need here. … I’ve been very clear about my opposition to drilling from day one of this campaign, while my opponent said she supported President Trump’s decision to lift the ban on offshore drilling.”

Drilling emerged as a campaign issue in Florida and Virginia, as well.

Florida voters passed Amendment 9, a combined measure that would permanently ban oil and gas drilling in state waters and prohibit the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices indoors.

And in Virginia’s 2nd District, where Republican Scott Taylor was defeated, Democrat Elaine Luria criticized Taylor for his past support for drilling and made it clear that she opposed any expansion. The district includes the Northern Neck of Virginia and hugs the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay.

Scroll to Top