Whenever there’s a wave for one party, one or more seats flip in areas that no one expected. One of those came in South Carolina’s 1st District. In 2018, Joe Cunningham became the first Democrat in almost 40 years to win this Charleston-based district. It was no secret that the Republicans were going to throw everything that wasn’t nailed down at Cunningham. But apparently they’ve already started down the low road. A Republican state legislator hurled one of the oldest and lowest smears in the book at Cunningham–he’s not a true patriot.
Lin Bennett represents the 114th district in the South Carolina House–essentially, much of northern Charleston, as well as a large slice of neighboring Dorchester County. On Sunday night, Bennett took to Facebook to accuse Cunningham of not putting his hand over his heart at the previous day’s commissioning of a new combat ship, the USS Charleston.
So what’s the big deal, you ask? Well, the 1st District is a very military-heavy district, with a large number of veterans living there. Additionally, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+10, it is tied for the second-reddest district represented by a Democrat. Cunningham won this district in a major upset by defeating state representative Katie Arrington, who had in turn dumped incumbent Republican Mark Sanford after slamming him for being insufficiently loyal to Donald Trump.
Suffice to say that in a district this red, Cunningham would have faced tough sledding in 2020 in any event. So on paper, one of the easiest ways to derail a freshman Democrat in a district this red would be to paint him as not being a true patriot.
But there’s one big problem with this meme. It isn’t true. Bratton Riley, the son of Charleston’s former longtime mayor, Joe Riley, was on hand for the ceremony as well. He told WCSC-TV in Charleston that the picture was not taken during the anthem. Rather, Riley said, it was taken when Cunningham and Senator Tim Scott were applauding “those amazing people who sacrifice for us every day. In a colossal understatement, Riley said that “very simply, this is a misleading photo.”
Raw video captured by WCSC appears to back up Riley’s side of the story. At the end of the anthem, Cunningham and Scott lowered their hands to applaud the band, then raised their hands back over their hearts as the colors passed by. If applauding the band at the end of the anthem isn’t the act of a patriot, what is? If that isn’t enough, The (Columbia) State noticed numerous instances from the Navy’s official footage of the ceremony that clearly showed Cunningham with his hand over his heart.
All things considered, The (Charleston) Post & Courier was being remarkably kind when it called the picture “misleading.” Cunningham spokesman Tyler Jones was even more blunt, accusing Bennett of peddling “fake news” in a “dishonest, childish and downright desperate” attempt to knock Cunningham ahead of his reelection bid.
And yet, even in the face of all of this, it doesn’t look like Bennett is backing down one inch. She crassly told WCSC that she just wanted to “make sure his (Cunningham’s) disrespect is known.” She claimed that Cunningham was “not following protocol” for the anthem, which calls for everyone to keep their hands over their hearts “until the Colors are retired or put into stands.” Come off it, Lin. So if you lower your hands to applaud the band, you’re not a patriot? As I write this on Tuesday night, the picture is still visible.
What makes this even more outrageous is that Bennett makes a big show of wearing her Christian faith on her sleeve. Her Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of Bible verses. She also took a swipe at her critics for not being as concerned about abortion.
The most benign interpretation for this pigheaded stance on Bennett’s part is that she isn’t used to being held accountable. Bennett represents what is, on paper, one of the more Republican districts covering Charleston. According to Daily Kos’ election database, Trump won it 53-38 over Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Mitt Romney won it 60-38 over Barack Obama in 2012. If anything, Bennett’s behavior is a textbook example of why politicians should not be in the redistricting business.
Bennett may think she can escape being held to account for falsely accusing Cunningham of not being a true patriot. But it’s time to put her on notice that she has another think coming. Let her have it on her personal and campaign Facebook pages, as well as on Twitter. Also, sign this petition calling for her to apologize. It will go straight to her inbox at the state capitol.
And while you’re at it, be sure to lend a hand to Cunningham. He’s going to have a fight on his hands to win a second term, and this blatant low blow is a clear indication of how nasty it will get. Click here to send him a donation.
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