Elections

GOP’s dig at Joe Cunningham’s wife is helping the SC Democrat raise money, campaign says

With five days left before the end of the current federal fundraising quarter, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham is seeing a windfall — and it’s all thanks to the National Republican Campaign Committee.

Cunningham, a South Carolina Democrat in one of the toughest reelection races this cycle, has raised more than $40,000 in under 24 hours, according to his campaign manager, Allie Watters.

Watters said Friday it’s the direct result of the backlash from an NRCC tweet the day before. It featured a screenshot from the Instagram account of Joe Cunningham’s wife, Amanda, where she had in turn posted a screenshot of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s tweet supporting impeachment of President Donald Trump.

“Beto getting bolder and I like it,” Amanda Cunningham wrote on Instagram.

“Looks like Mrs. Cunningham likes a man who supports baseless impeachment…wonder if this will come up in @RepCunningham‘s marriage counseling?” the NRCC wrote on Twitter, referencing an earlier Instagram post where Amanda Cunningham announced it was “mind-blowing” that congressional health insurance does not cover services like couples’ therapy.

Though campaign contributions have likely come overwhelmingly from Democrats, Republicans were also disturbed by the shot taken at the Cunninghams’ personal life from the NRCC’s personal Twitter account.

“What is wrong with you people,” tweeted veteran GOP strategist John Weaver.

“Y’all ... do a gut check. This is not okay and not helpful,” agreed Caroline Anderegg, the communications director for Republican S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s 2018 reelection campaign.

Politico reported receiving alarmed responses from sitting Republican members of Congress.

Prominent Democrats tweeted their support for Cunningham, along with a link to the 1st Congressional District congressman’s fundraising page.

“Once again, the @NRCC proves they have absolutely no low. Attacking Joe’s family and belittling mental health care and counseling is disgusting,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, another vulnerable Democratic freshman. “Help Joe fight back by chipping in.”

And Cunningham personally sounded the alarm to donors.

“Amanda is my rock — and the @NRCC just hit rock bottom,” Cunningham tweeted, referring to his wife. “I respect my wife and all women, ya’ll should give it a try. Let’s show them there’s a price for living in the gutter.

“DONATE,” he concluded, accompanied by a link for supporters to do just that.

A few hours later, Cunningham tweeted again: “This is why people hate politics. It’s time to teach the @NRCC a lesson about attacking our families. Help me fight back.”

In a statement, NRCC communications director Chris Pack defended his team.

“A few weeks ago, multiple news outlets ran a story about Joe Cunningham’s wife publicly complaining that her husband’s taxpayer-funded health care plan doesn’t cover her marriage counseling,” he said. “We referenced that tone deaf complaint when she publicly praised Beto’s support of impeachment. She is the one who first publicly brought up these issues, not us. And they aren’t going to help Cunningham win re-election in SC-01.”

The South Carolina Republican Party declined to weigh in Friday.

The NRCC has for the past nine months been trying to implicate Joe Cunningham, a moderate, in the policies, or controversies, being pushed and promoted by his U.S. House Democratic colleagues on the far left.

Republicans, however, have had a difficult time in that effort. The vulnerable incumbent freshman has taken pains to stay on message, break with his party and not take overly provocative political positions.

So the NRCC has on occasion turned to the outspoken Amanda Cunningham’s public social media presence for fodder. In tweets and Instagram postings, she has consistently offered a very personal, unvarnished view of her progressive politics, emotions and experiences as political spouse and new mother.

Recently, the NRCC has asked for Joe Cunningham to comment on Amanda Cunningham’s enthusiasm for 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. Seizing on her disappointment with the congressional health insurance plan, the NRCC sent out an email with the subject line, “Joe’s wife is still a problem.”

“Joe Cunningham hasn’t said a word about it,” Camille Gallo, a NRCC spokeswoman, said at the time. “Does this mean he believes taxpayers should pay for his marriage counseling and his wife’s therapy sessions, too?”

Watters told The State that the Cunninghams have actually been engaged in marriage counseling for years, “not because they’re having problems but to keep their bond strong.”

Amanda Cunningham has said on social media her “therapist” and “anti-anxiety meds” are among the tools she uses to maintain her wellness.

Meanwhile, Joe Cunningham’s current stance on impeachment — that Democrats ought not get ahead of themselves before learning the facts — is just the latest case where the GOP can’t explicitly link him to Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and self-described Democratic Socialist U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

But the day after the NRCC’s tweet about Amanda and Joe Cunningham, the fundraising arm was back to restricting its criticisms to the political official exclusively.

Slamming him for siding with his party on a procedural vote forced by Republicans to close the Democratic impeachment inquiry, Gallo suggested the lawmaker buy a shirt broadcasting his tacit support for the endeavor.

“He can show his constituents how he really feels even if he’s too feckless to say so,” she said.

Emma Dumain works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where her reporting on South Carolina politics appears in The State, The Herald, The Sun News, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She was previously the Washington correspondent for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. Dumain also covered Congress for Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.
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