Madison Cawthorn loses North Carolina GOP House primary after string of missteps
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Rep. Madison Cawthorn, the youngest member of Congress, failed to hold onto his House seat, after critics said the 26-year-old brought too much negative attention to his North Carolina district.
Cawthorn Tuesday night made a concession phone call to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, whose legislative seat is within the House district. Edwards had the support of Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and various other GOP officials.
“This is simply incredible,” Edwards said Tuesday night in declaring victory. “Against all odds, we fought hard to win this election and provide clear conservative leadership for the mountains.”
Edwards told voters he has the track record to bring conservative results for the district.
“I believe that he may have gotten lost in the political stardom and forgot what his role was back here at home,” Edwards said earlier this week of Cawthorn.
Cawthorn’s congressional race has been one to watch during Tuesday’s GOP primary election in North Carolina, as well as the Senate GOP primary.
Shortly after the polls closed, the Associated Press called the Republican race for Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C. It was a victory for former President Trump, who endorsed Budd last summer for the open seat over former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker.
Cawthorn’s fall from grace marked a remarkable turnaround for the young Republican.
Once hailed as a rising star in the party who can counter the progressive Squad with an America First message, Cawthorn had a difficult re-election, with certain GOP congressional leaders losing faith in him following a string of questionable actions.
Cawthorn maintained his support from former President Trump, who urged supporters in a last minute message on his Truth Social site to not give up on the young congressman: “Recently, he made some foolish mistakes, which I don’t believe he’ll make again,” Trump posted this week. “Let’s give Madison a second chance!”
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Heading into the primary and even during the vote tally, Cawthorn felt optimistic, while acknowledging it’s “closer than I thought it would be.”
“We’ve got high hopes that we will win,” Cawthorn told Fox News Digital shortly after 9 p.m. as he trailed Edwards. “I don’t believe that this will go to a runoff.”
He said the reason the race was so tight was because his party worked to oust him.
“The biggest thing is probably just the coordinated strike that’s really been carried out by members of my own party,” Cawthorn said. “I believe that there’s a war going on between which version of conservatism and Republicanism is going to move forward.”
Cawthorn drew seven GOP challengers. Aside from Edwards, Michele Woodhouse, the GOP chair of the North Carolina 11th congressional district, said it was time for Cawthorn to go.
Woodhouse said Cawthorn backed her to run in the 11th district as the “America First candidate” when he decided last year to run in a neighboring district that would have given him a bigger profile in the Charlotte media market. But when redistricting lines were redrawn, Cawthorn decided to run in the 11th, but by that point, Woodhouse didn’t want to exit the race.
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Woodhouse told Fox News Digital she would bring “honor to the position … and never bring any salacious headlines to this district that are embarrassing to the voters here.”
Cawthorn rose to political stardom during his Republican National Convention speech in 2020 where he dramatically stood up out of his wheelchair. Cawthorn was partially paralyzed in a car accident at the age of 18. He enjoys a strong social media following and talks about creating a “new Republican Party” that inspires young people.
But during his short political career, problems soon began piling up.
He faced sexual misconduct allegations, which he denied. He was twice stopped by airport security for trying to bring a loaded gun on a plane. In March, he was cited by North Carolina troopers for driving with a revoked license. That’s on top of two previous traffic violations for speeding at 87 and 89 mph.
In March, Cawthorn drew widespread rebuke from his colleagues, including GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, for claiming in a podcast interview he had been invited to “an orgy” in Washington, had been sexually solicited, and had seen leaders use cocaine. Cawthorn later said he wasn’t talking specifically about his fellow GOP lawmakers. “He’s lost my trust,” McCarthy said in response to the controversy.
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In April, Politico published pictures of Cawthorn partying in lingerie. Then, the Daily Mail posted photos of Cawthorn’s close aide and scheduler grabbing his crotch, along with an ethics complaint that alleged the congressman gave the staffer thousands of dollars in loans and gifts. Cawthorn’s team said the photos were taken before Congress and the aide is his cousin who helps him regularly with his disability.
Then earlier this month, a video of a naked Cawthorn was published making thrusting motions on top of another person in a bed.
Cawthorn explained the video was from years ago. “I was being crass with a friend, trying to be funny. We were acting foolish, and joking,” he said on Twitter, adding: “Blackmail won’t win. We will.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., was actively trying to oust Cawthorn from Congress and even accused him of insider trading. He backed Edwards, saying the 11th Congressional District deserved someone who is “fully dedicated” to serving their constituents.
“Republicans chose Chuck Edwards tonight because he is the embodiment of Mountain values who will fight for them every single day in Congress with honor and integrity,” Tillis said Tuesday night.
Under North Carolina primary rules, if no candidate got above 30%, there would have been second primary run-off election on July 26 between the first and second-place finishers.
With 99% of the vote counted, Edwards had 33.5% of the vote to Cawthorn’s 31.7%. They were trailed by Matthew Burril at 9.5%; Bruce O’Connell at 6.9%; Rod Honeycutt at 6.5%; Michele Woodhouse at 5.3%; Wendy Nevarez at 5.1% and Kristie Sluder at 1.5%.
Edwards will face Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara in the November election.
In the Senate race, the victory was an impressive turnaround for Budd. For months, Budd was unable to leverage the former president’s endorsement to boost his poll numbers and fundraising figures.
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“I think it was huge,” Budd told Fox News Digital Tuesday of Trump’s endorsement. “But it really helps especially when you work hard like we’ve done. We’ve stayed focused. We’ve worked hard. Stay humble and go out and ask people for their prayers, their support and their vote.”
Trump held a rally in North Carolina for Budd in early April, and in recent weeks the congressman surged to front-runner status in the increasingly contentious primary showdown.
Walker defied pressure from Trump to drop out of the Senate primary and instead run for a fourth term in the House with the former president’s backing. McCrory entered the race with the highest visibility, having been governor from 2013 to 2017.
In November, Budd will face the Democratic nominee, Cheri Beasley, a former North Carolina Supreme Court chief justice.
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In the purple state, the general election should be close as both sides will pump millions into the race that will help decide control of the 50-50 split Senate.
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and Matt Leach contributed to this report.