By Chris LaCivita and Trent Wisecup
FP1 Strategies is proud to have won the Reed Award for the Most Daring & Successful Tactic of 2020 from Campaigns & Elections for our work on behalf of Congresswoman Nancy Mace’s winning campaign in SC-01.
Democrat Congressman Joe Cunningham was one of the best-funded incumbents in the country in 2020. He ended up outspending Mace by over $1 million during the campaign. Mace also had to run an expensive primary campaign, which compounded Cunningham’s fundraising advantage. With extra resources, Cunningham was able to flood the airwaves at the outset of the general election with positive ads positioning him as a centrist.
By mid-September, Mace had climbed to within five points of Cunningham, but she stalled in the polls shortly after, and handicappers like the Cook Political Report moved the race into the Lean Democratic category. A report in Military.com that the Commandant of Marine Corps was contemplating closing Parris Island, the famed basic training base in the Lowcountry, due to the inclusion of a gender-equality training requirement in the 2020 Defense Authorization bill provided the catalyst for Mace to grab control of the race.
The political leadership inside the NRCC, with the exception of the regional political director on the race, was dead set against Mace going all-in on Parris Island because the Defense Authorization bill had passed with the support of Republicans in the House and Senate. They argued that attacking Cunningham on Parris Island would backfire. To her credit, Mace, as a lifelong resident of the Lowcountry, understood her district’s emotional attachment to Parris Island and the significant economic contributions the base provided to the local economy. She agreed to move forward with the Parris Island issue, and FP1 produced hard-hitting television and radio ads that pitted Joe Cunningham and Nancy Pelosi’s politically correct agenda against the Lowcountry’s military heritage. The Parris Island offensive drove considerable earned media attention and put Cunningham on defense. The fact that General David Berger, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, was on the record stating that the gender equality training mandate threatened the closure of Parris Island helped make the attack stick. To give more credibility to Mace’s prosecution of the Parris Island issue, we ran a testimonial ad from Medal of Honor winner James Livingston, a retired general in the Marine Corps and a revered figure in South Carolina’s influential veteran community.
After running our Parris Island and General Livingston ads, Mace climbed into the lead in our internal polling. The Congressional Leadership Fund picked up on the same dynamic in their polling and doubled down on their financial commitment to the race in October.
Nancy Mace is in Congress today because she had the courage of her own convictions and used her knowledge of her district to guide her decision-making rather than heeding the warnings of D.C. campaign operatives. She put her whole campaign on the Parris Island attack and won. Her campaign is a powerful reminder of how an issue of local importance and a well-executed line of attack can flip the trajectory of a race. FP1 is proud to have helped Nancy Mace launch the Most Daring & Successful Tactic of 2020.
Here are the FP1 ads that made Joe Cunningham a one-term wonder: