• The Herald

Too tough to tame? SC Dem gov hopeful Joe Cunningham courts NASCAR fans to vote blue

Joe Cunningham was out of place.

Standing on the Darlington Raceway infield, packed with RV campers, the Democratic nominee for governor in South Carolina was surrounded by flags bearing former President Donald Trump’s name and “Let’s Go Brandon,” what’s become a popular phrase to insult President Joe Biden.

With sun beating down over the track, Cunningham slowly walked up to one camper selling cups of lemonade for sale, the proceeds which will go to charity, those at the stand said.

Handing his business card to Georgetown Republican Jay Colbertson, 34, Cunningham listed his top priorities should he be elected governor in November: He'll work to legalize marijuana and sports betting and use the bully pulpit to push for age limits on politicians.

"I used to represent the 1st District (in the U.S. House) and worked with Tom Rice up there," Cunningham said, referring to the 7th District congressman ousted in a primary after he voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6th Capitol riot. "We're trying to get career politicians out of there and get the people in."

Cunningham might not have won over Colbertson (Colbertson declined to comment for this story), but the Georgetown Republican is the kind of crossover voter the 40-year-old, one-term Lowcountry congressman needs if he's going to win a statewide race in a reliably Republican state.

Cunningham, standing in the middle of the Pee Dee on a 90-degree weather day, appears to understand that.

The State newspaper exclusively joined Cunningham on Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway's Southern 500 as the Democrat stumped for votes an an event that in the past has shown more openness for Republican candidates, not Democrats. In 1992, for instance, race fans booed then-candidate Bill Clinton.

Standing at Darlington also Sept. 4 was Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who is seeking a second full term in office.

At the track, Cunningham talked about how he sees his role as governor if elected and how he would deal with a Congress possibly poised to be in Republican hands. He also shared if elected how he plans to push his so-called "freedom agenda," which would eliminate the state income tax, raise teacher salaries and legalize marijuana and sports betting - stances Cunningham says can win voters of all ages, backgrounds and political affiliation.