- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina lost his reelection campaign in Tuesday’s Republican primary to state Sen. Chuck Edwards after a turbulent first term filled with personal problems and feuds with his own party.

Despite receiving former President Donald Trump’s support, which Mr. Trump reiterated Monday on his Truth Social platform, Mr. Cawthorn lost his seat in North Carolina’s heavily Republican 11th Congressional District.

With 99% of the vote counted, the first-term lawmaker got 31.7% of the vote, versus the 33.5% that Mr. Edwards garnered. Several candidates in the crowded eight-person field scored in the single digits, but Mr. Edwards met the 30% threshold to claim immediate victory without a runoff.

The New York Times called the race just after 10:30 p.m. An Edwards spokesperson later confirmed multiple news reports that Mr. Cawthorn had called Mr. Edwards to concede defeat.

North Carolina GOP campaign consultant Jim Blaine of the firm Martin and Blaine told The Washington Times that the cumulative weight of Mr. Cawthorn‘s immature behavior hurt the incumbent lawmaker.

“Both in terms of his professional work and his personal life, I think that caught up to him and just kind of eventually … was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Mr. Blaine said. “It was probably one of the thousands that have been piled on this guy. He just couldn’t sustain just the weight of the problems and the way he conducted himself.”

North Carolina GOP activist Paul Fitts told The Times that voters in the 11th Congressional District were willing to give Mr. Cawthorn a chance when he first ran in 2020, at age 25. But, he said, they got fed up with him as more negative stories emerged about the young lawmaker.

His constituency, by and large, they’re not young. It’s not like it’s a college campus that’s going to vote this kid in the Congress. They’re people who are experienced and older and just a little more mature and they were willing to give him a chance,” he said. But “if you do the same mistake twice, you’re really going to tick off your constituency.”

Mr. Cawthorn made his way onto the political scene after former Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican, vacated the 11th District seat to become then-President Trump’s chief of staff.

Mr. Cawthorn, who previously worked part-time in Mr. Meadows’ district office, decided to run for the open seat in 2020.

He ran in a 10-person primary last cycle, caught the eye of voters with his youthful looks, enthusiasm about his conservative values, and most importantly, his personal story about being a young man in a wheelchair who became a paraplegic as a result of a traumatic auto accident just years earlier.

Mr. Cawthorn spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention following his primary win, and easily defeated his Democratic opponent in November that year.

But after being sworn into office, trouble began to surface. During his first year in Congress, Mr. Cawthorn faced many personal, political and legal issues.

They included referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “thug,” and the Ukrainian government as “incredibly evil.” He was also charged twice with driving on a revoked license.

On another occasion, a Capitol Police officer caught Mr. Cawthorn attempting to sneak a Republican candidate onto the House floor and lying to the officer about it.

Mr. Cawthorn was also cited twice for carrying a loaded firearm at airport security checkpoints, and Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican, wanted him investigated for alleged insider trading.

Perhaps the biggest misstep Mr. Cawthorn made that upset most GOP lawmakers was his claim on a podcast that an unidentified lawmaker asked him to “come to an orgy,” and that he witnessed others using cocaine at a party.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Mr. Cawthorn “did not tell the truth,” and the North Carolina lawmaker later walked back the claim.

Mr. Tillis became so incensed with Mr. Cawthorn‘s behavior that he endorsed Mr. Edwards to run against Mr. Cawthorn for reelection — a rare thing for one sitting Congress member to do to another of his own party.

Additionally, Mr. Tillis’s PAC, known as Grow NC Strong, released attack ads on Mr. Cawthorn in the 11th District during the primary, and former staffers and campaign volunteers worked for other candidates.

His opponents leaked to the press embarrassing photos and videos showing Mr. Cawthorn in compromising positions, including one of a staffer, also a distant cousin, grabbing his crotch.

His relationship with his constituents began to grow tense.

Voters in his western North Carolina district voiced frustration with Mr. Cawthorn when he changed districts last November, saying he wanted to keep what he called a “go-along-get-along Republican” from getting elected in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District.

But Mr. Cawthorn changed his mind in February, when he filed to run for reelection in his current district.

A former staffer accused the congressman of shuttering district offices and not having staff available for constituent services.

Mr. Cawthorn released a video statement two weeks ago countering much of the criticism he faced during his first term in Congress.

“We solved over 1,800 cases. We answered over 11,000 constituent inquiries and passed three pieces of legislation in the minority,” Mr. Cawthorn said.

He said he has as many offices as his congressional budget permits.

“I call Washington DC elites out on their bullcrap,” Mr. Cawthorn said. “I expose the corruption that goes on in Washington, and they hate me for it. That is why I’m under attack right now.

“But I wanted you to hear straight from me. Don’t listen to fake news. Don’t let the swamp of Washington DC distract or dissuade you from sending a warrior back to Washington,” he said.

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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