COLUMBIA, S.C. — Republicans again swept to election victories across South Carolina on Tuesday, holding on to all seven statewide offices
But there was a fairly big crack in their electoral wall, as Democrats flipped a U.S. House seat from them for the first time since 1986.
Democrat Joe Cunningham's defeat of Republican state Rep. Katie Arrington in the coastal 1st District means South Carolina's U.S. House delegation now has five Republicans and two Democrats.
Democrats had less luck in statewide races. Republican Gov. Henry McMaster had an easy re-election win as Republicans again won all seven statewide offices. A Democrat hasn't won a statewide race in South Carolina since 2006.
All 124 state House seats were up for re-election. More than half of them, 68, were uncontested. Just 45 races had a Republican facing a Democrat. One incumbent Democrat and one incumbent Republican lost.
The Democrats did flip a state Senate seat for the first time since 2000 as former state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian won a special election to fill the remainder of the term for Republican Sen. John Courson, who resigned after pleading guilty to converting his campaign money to personal use.
Along with touting his accomplishments, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson spent campaign time this year explaining his role in an investigation into corruption at the Statehouse.
Wilson defeated Democrat Constance Anastopoulo, even though less than a month before the election, a State Grand Jury report said Wilson impeded an investigation into corruption at the South Carolina Statehouse involving a friend he hired as a political consultant.
Anastopoulo spent nearly $500,000 of her own money trying to knock off Wilson, much of it on TV ads. Some of them run in the same newscasts as commercials for her personal injury lawyer husband Akim Anastopoulo, well known for his "Don't scream, call Akim" ads that run statewide.
Republican Secretary of State Mark won a fifth term. He was re-elected after primary opponents emphasized that more than a hundred South Carolina laws passed for a decade did not have the state seal, which is one of the secretary of state's duties.
His Democratic opponent is retired U.S. Army Maj. Melvin Whittenburg, said he would make sure the job's requirements are met, and also add new initiatives like waiving application fees for new businesses started by recent college graduates.
Republican state Treasurer Curtis Loftis won a third term. He has tangled with legislators over investments and how to handle the state retirement system. His opponent was Democrat Rosalyn Glenn, a consultant who helps business and other groups with their financial strategies.
South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers beat minor party candidates David Edmond of the Green Party and Chris Nelums of the United Citizens Party to get a fourth term.
South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman is running unopposed for a second term after Democratic challenger Israel Romero dropped out of the race in October because an undisclosed felony conviction a decade ago made him ineligible to serve.
Republican Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom is guaranteed a fifth term.
There was one rematch in the U.S. House races in South Carolina, as Democrat Archie Parnell again lost to U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman in the 5th District.
Norman won a special election last year by just 3 percentage points but appeared on his way to a much bigger win in 2018. The complexion of this year's race changed in May when divorce records surfaced showing Parnell broke a glass door and beat his then-wife with his fists back in 1973. The 5th District is in the northern part of the state and includes suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina.
South Carolina's longest-serving congressman is the delegation's lone Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn. He won a 14th term against Republican Gerhard Gressmann in the 5th District, which connects parts of Columbia with parts of Charleston and was drawn to insure it had a majority of minority voters.
In the 2nd District, Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson won handily over Democrat and Army veteran Sean Carrigan. Wilson hasn't faced a close election since his district was redrawn in 2010. It includes Aiken, Barnwell and Lexington counties as well as parts of Orangeburg and Richland counties.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan easily won a fifth term against Democrat Mary Geren in the 3rd District that covers 11 counties in northwest South Carolina.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rice is defeated state Rep. Robert Williams in the 7th District. Rice is the only congressman the district which stretches from Darlington to Florence has ever known. Williams is also running to keep his state House seat.
There is one new face from South Carolina in the U.S. House. Republican state Sen. William Timmons beat Democrat Brandon Brown in the 4th District, anchored by Greenville and Spartanburg. The seat was opened when Rep. Trey Gowdy decided not to run for re-election.
South Carolina voters rejected a state constitutional amendment allowing the governor to appoint the superintendent starting in 2023.
Opponents said the proposal takes power away from the people. Supporters said having the governor appoint the head of schools in South Carolina assures they work as a team.
Voters in South Carolina have already taken the adjutant general and lieutenant governor positions off ballots this decade.
South Carolina is sending a new Democrat to Congress for the first time in more than 25 years in a loss for the Republican candidate who had been backed by President Donald Trump.
Attorney and ocean engineer Joe Cunningham beat state Rep. Katie Arrington - a Republican who knocked off an incumbent in the primary thanks to Trump's backing - in Tuesday's election.
It was, on the surface, a surprising win in a state that over the past generation has become solidly Republican. But the South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, stretching along the coast from Charleston down to Hilton Head Island, isn't as conservative as the rest of the state, and Cunningham painted Arrington as a reactionary politician who would back Trump over the people in her district.
"It's a long time coming," Cunningham said about his win around 2 a.m. Wednesday after his supporters screamed and cheered in the background of a phone call for 90 seconds. "Today we sent a message. We ran against divisive, hateful rhetoric. We ran a campaign of issues."
In unofficial results, Cunningham won by about 3,500 votes, which is above the 1 percent threshold that triggers an automatic recount by South Carolina law. The state now has five Republican and two Democratic U.S. House members.
No issue better illustrated Cunningham's plan than offshore drilling. Arrington backed Trump's energy plans that include drilling for oil in the floor of the Atlantic Ocean off the state's coast during her primary win over incumbent U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford.
After winning the nomination in June, Arrington said she was against offshore drilling.
Cunningham, 36, went to Republican mayors and other leaders in coastal towns such as the Isle of Palms and got their endorsement by saying he'd fight any drilling off their beaches.
"Republican mayors have crossed over the aisle - Republican council members - because they realize I am the only one who can be trusted," Cunningham said.
Cunningham also tapped into the well-educated, well-off Republican leaning voters tired of divisive politics. While Arrington's bare-knuckled approach helped her beat Sanford, her defining this race as a war or good versus evil turned off some voters.
"I don't know how you can say you're going up to Congress to serve everyone when you are classifying some people as good and other people as evil," Cunningham said.
The key to victory for Cunningham was Charleston County, where he won 57 percent of the vote.
Sanford refused to endorse anyone in the race, which Cunningham spun in his favor. Cunningham's momentum also became evident as the vice president's wife, Karen Pence and Donald Trump Jr. came to South Carolina to campaign for Arrington and President Trump recorded a message supporting her on a phone call made to thousands of voters.
Arrington's campaign left their party early Wednesday while votes were still being counted with campaign spokesman Michael Mule saying they expected to win. The campaign didn't respond to a message after the race was called.
Just days after winning the Republican primary, Arrington, 47, was seriously injured in a crash as she was being driven to a campaign event. She suffered massive internal bleeding and a broken back and ribs, and needed a ventilator.
Cunningham suspended his campaign while Arrington's prognosis wasn't clear.
Signs of trouble for Arrington emerged in the weeks before the election, when the National Republican Congressional Committee ran ads for Arrington after saying they had no plans to spend on the race.
Arrington's primary win energized Democrats, desperate to send a first-time congressman to Washington for the first time since 1992, when Jim Clyburn won the 6th District, just redrawn to have a majority of minority voters.
Compared with the rest of the state, South Carolina's 1st Congressional District is richer - the median income is $66,400, some $17,000 more than the state's median income - and more purple - the district voted 53.5 percent for Trump in 2016, several points lower than any other Republican-represented district in South Carolina.
Democrats started paying attention to possibly winning the seat after Arrington's primary win with a district that is a little uneasy with the direction of the Republican party. Cunningham raised and spent more money than Arrington.
© 2020 Associated Press