South Carolina 1st Congressional District

Incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham (left) and Republican Nancy Mace are vying for the South Carolina 1st Congressional District seat.

(The Center Square) – In a contest rated as a toss-up, Republican state Rep. Nancy Mace is challenging incumbent Democrat Congressman Joe Cunningham to represent South Carolina's 1st Congressional District.

The district stretches across the lowcountry from Hilton Head to Charleston. Cunningham flipped the district in 2018, beating his opponent by one point. Two years earlier, the district had gone for President Donald Trump by 13 points, and in 2014, the district elected then-Gov. Nikki Haley by 22 percentage points.

First-term incumbent Cunningham is a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. He has earned the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A fan of local craft beer, Cunningham has been hosting a “Virtual Brewery Tour” campaign stops.

Mace is a single mom of two who has served in the state House since winning a special election in 2018. She also is the first woman ever to graduate from The Citadel military academy. Mace has earned the endorsement of the South Carolina chapter of National Federation of Independent Business and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Real Clear Politics has rated the race as a toss-up, but Cunningham solidly has outraised his Republican challenger. According to June 30 FEC data, Cunningham had a $2.5 million cash-on-hand advantage over Mace.


Mace has been designated a “Taxpayer Hero” by the Club for Growth for her voting record in the South Carolina Legislature. She has said publicly she supports tax reforms in the form of a fair tax and a flat tax.

Cunningham said at a debate this week he does not support raising taxes in a time of crisis.

“Let me tell you something else we shouldn't do during the middle of a pandemic: we should not raise people's taxes,” Cunningham said.

National Debt

Mace and Cunningham express concern over the nation’s debt.

“Our spending has been out of control for quite some time, and it has got to be reigned in because our deficit is something that we’re going to pass on to the next generation,” Cunningham said.

The candidates diverge on plans to solve the debt crisis. Cunningham supports a constitutional amendment that requires the federal government to balance its budget.

“I support a Balanced Budget Amendment because we need to get serious about how we tackle our growing debt, which just hit $22 trillion for the first time ever,” Cunningham tweeted in April 2019. “The best way to ensure Congress produces a balanced budget is to require it by law.”

Mace supports reigning in federal spending with the “Penny Plan” to balance the national budget. The plan would require the federal government to spend one penny less for every dollar that the government spends each year, resulting in a one percent decrease in spending.

“The Penny Plan does away with baseline budgeting, which assumes that government should bring in, at a minimum, the same amount in taxes that it received from taxpayers the year before,” Mace’s campaign website reads. “Our debt hamstrings our seniors, kids, and families, and the only solutions coming out of DC to manage the debt? Tax increases.”

Health Insurance

Mace opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and supports a full repeal of the legislation. Instead, Mace said she’ll work to pass legislation to “expand access, drive down prices, and improve the quality of health care for Americans.”

Cunningham supports Medicaid expansion and said that while the ACA had flaws, it provides a base to work from.

“I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege,” Cunningham’s campaign website reads. “One of the many ways we can improve our current health care system is by encouraging the federal government to negotiate with drug companies to lower medication prices for people on Medicare, similar to how the Veterans Affairs Department does.”

Cunningham also supports lowering the age requirement for Medicare from 65 to 55 over the next 10 years and providing tax breaks for middle-class families to reduce health care costs.

School Choice

The candidates diverge on whether public funds should be able to be used to send children to private schools, empowering families with more educational options.

Mace supports Gov. Henry McMaster’s SAFE grants school-choice program, which uses federal COVID-19 relief funds to provide scholarships for low-income families struggling financially in the pandemic to keep their children in their private schools. Mace also supports U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s School Choice Now Act.

“South Carolina has many wonderful public schools. We also have many great charter schools, private schools and a legion of homeschooling parents,” Mace wrote in a recent op-ed in the Post and Courier. “I believe the time has come to change the way we think about how we fund education, and how we allow parents to determine where their kids are educated.”

Cunningham does not support using public funding for private schools.

Offshore Drilling

An issue both candidates agree on is a permanent ban on oil drilling off South Carolina’s coast.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month issuing a 10-year ban on offshore drilling from Florida to South Carolina. Mace attended Trump’s announcement ceremony in Florida.

Mace and Cunningham said they support a permanent ban on offshore drilling. Cunningham has passed legislation through the U.S. House instituting such a ban. The bill awaits action in the U.S. Senate.

“Make no mistake, as quickly as the president changed his mind on offshore drilling two months before an election, he could change his mind right back the day after the election,” Cunningham said in response to Trump’s order. “The only way we can make sure our coasts are safe for future generations and give coastal communities the certainty they deserve is to pass my bipartisan legislation to permanently ban offshore drilling.”

Staff Reporter

Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.