West Kentucky native is now South Carolina congressman

Cunningham

A western Kentucky native and first-time political candidate helped Democrats regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives by "flipping" South Carolina's coastal seat long held by Republicans.

Joe Cunningham, a 2000 graduate of Lyon County High School, won the 1st District congressional race in Tuesday's general election, defeating Republican candidate Katie Arrington, a state representative from Summerville.

Arrington won the GOP nomination for the House seat earlier this summer by defeating incumbent Mark Sanford in the primary.

Cunningham, 36, is the youngest son of Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham and wife, Paula.

Unofficial results gave Cunningham 50.56 percent of the vote to Arrington's 49.26 percent, as reported by The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina. The 3,509-vote margin of victory was not announced until 2 a.m. Wednesday.

"It was really an incredible ride last (election) night," said Justice Cunningham, speaking by phone Wednesday from Charleston, where he and his wife were on hand to watch their son's victory.

"I mean it was a roller-coaster. We thought we lost it, and we kept coming back. It was like a 14-inning baseball game," the justice said.

"Joe pulled off one of the most heroic political feats I've ever observed in many, many years. I hate to say it, because he's my son, but as Dizzy Dean used to say, 'If it's true, it ain't bragging.' "

Candidate Cunningham faced steep odds, according to his father.

"He ran in a Republican district as a Democrat. He ran against the president of the United States, who made robo-calls all day for two days attacking him," the justice said. "He ran against current events such as a good economy, which usually favors the incumbent president.

"His opponent harped on the caravan, the group coming up through Mexico. There were so many things working against (Joe) and he just slugged it out. I'm terribly proud of him."

Cunningham credits his son's victory to his ability to bring people together.

"He represents a rising generation of politicians who are put out with the division and the tribalism of Washington," the justice said. "So many people fell in behind him because they were looking for something that provides hope for more civil dialogue."

The young Cunningham always had an interest in politics, even at an early age, his father said.

While Bill Cunningham gives primary credit to his wife for the way their son turned out, he likes to believe he also had an impact.

"I tried to live a life that can make you proud," he said. "He saw how much pleasure I got out of serving people all those years ... maybe he picked up some of that through osmosis."

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