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Democrat Joe Cunningham wins U.S. House seat in major upset

Democrat Joe Cunningham will now hold a seat that hasn't been in his party's hands since the waning days of Jimmy Carter's presidency.
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Joe Cunningham

Charleston, SC (WLTX) – Democrat Joe Cunningham scored a major upset in the race for U.S. House District 1 in South Carolina, becoming the first Democrat to hold that seat in nearly four decades.

Cunningham defeated Republican Katie Arrington 51 to 49 percent in results from Tuesday’s contest.

RESULTS: Full race results from the 2018 midterm elections in South Carolina

While both were running for the office for the first time, the win is a political upset, since the First District has been held exclusively by Republicans since 1981. Mendel Davis was the last Democrat to hold the seat before not seeking re-election to Congress for health reasons during the 1980 campaign.

It's also the first time a Democrat has flipped a U.S. House race in the state since 1986, and he becomes the first new Democrat in Congress from the state in 25 years.

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Cunningham has worked as an ocean engineer and attorney in the Charleston area. But he had little broad name recognition throughout the region when he won June’s primary.

Related Coverage: Democrats take U.S. House, GOP expands majority in Senate

His opponent, a state representative, surprised many in June when she knocked off incumbent Mark Sanford, a fixture in state politics since the 1990s who served two terms as the state’s governor, in June’s GOP primary. But Sanford, a Republican had been critical of Donald Trump, drawing the ire of the president. Arrington portrayed Sanford as a ‘Never Trumper,” and on the day of Sanford’s defeat, the President took to Twitter to say he’d played a role in the lawmaker’s primary loss.

During the general campaign, a lot of money was spent by both campaigns to try and sway voters as this contest was seen as potentially important in the overall balance of power in the U.S. House. Cunningham had tried to portray himself as a newcomer and fresh voice, but Arrington attempted to tie him to national Democratic leaders. In the waning days of the campaign, President Trump made robocalls in support of Arrington, and the president’s son visited the state as well.

The First District comprises an area that stretches from Charleston to Hilton Head.