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South Carolina GOP planning effort to reclaim 1st District

December 19, 2018
FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2018 file photo, Democratic U.S. House candidate Joe Cunningham, right, shakes hands with Sullivan's Island Mayor Pat O'Neil after Cunningham's victory press conference at the International Longshoremen's Association hall in Charleston, S.C. State GOP Chairman Drew McKissick told The Associated Press on Wednesday, Dec. 19 that he plans to roll out a “victory program” for the 1st Congressional District this spring. Last month, Joe Cunningham narrowly defeated Republican Katie Arrington, becoming the first Democrat to represent South Carolina's 1st District in more than 30 years. McKissick called Cunningham’s win “the biggest disappointment we had on the ballot” in the 2018 elections. Arrington ousted U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford for the Republican nomination in June. (AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Just over a month after the 2018 midterm elections, South Carolina Republicans are already sketching out ways to win back the first congressional seat in the state to flip to Democratic hands in decades.

State GOP Chairman Drew McKissick told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he’s planning to roll out a “victory program” for the 1st Congressional District this spring, with the goal of winning the seat back in 2020.

He said the plan includes hiring full-time staff devoted to strengthening the Republican network in the coastal district, which includes Charleston and the surrounding area. A more robust structure will enable the party’s eventual candidate to be more effective, he said.

“The point is to get the party down that way focused on doing the party’s job,” McKissick said of the plan, which will take more formal shape at the party’s next major meeting in February.

Last month, Joe Cunningham narrowly defeated Republican Katie Arrington, becoming the first Democrat to represent South Carolina’s 1st District in more than 30 years. On a night of major GOP victories in South Carolina, including all statewide-elected offices, McKissick said the congressional loss stung.

“That was the biggest disappointment we had on the ballot,” McKissick said.

Potential Republican challengers, including Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert, are already starting to take initial steps toward running for the 1st District. Some have speculated that Arrington, who ousted U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford for the Republican nomination in June, will mount another campaign.

On Wednesday, Cunningham spokesman Tyler Jones told AP the congressman-elect is concentrating on making inroads on behalf of his constituents, not an election two years away.

“While Republican strategists look for ways to take Joe down before he’s even cast a single vote, he’ll continue to be focused on putting the Lowcountry over party and fighting like hell for the folks that sent him to Congress,” Jones said.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

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