The Punxsutawney Spirit

N. Carolina Rep. Cawthorn concedes GOP primary to Edwards

- By Gary D. Robertson

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — First-term U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn conceded his Republican primary race Tuesday to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, ousting the pro-Donald Trump firebrand from Congress after his personal and political blunders translated into constituen­t unhappines­s.

Cawthorn called Edwards to concede the 11th Congressio­nal District primary to Edwards, Cawthorn campaign spokespers­on Luke Ball told The Associated Press.

The AP late Tuesday had not called the race, in which Edwards was leading Cawthorn and six other Republican candidates with nearly all votes counted. Cawthorn had vaulted to national prominence after winning the mountain-area seat in 2020 at age 25.

Edwards is fast-food franchise owner who with a victory would advance to the November election against Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who won Tuesday’s six-candidate Democratic primary.

Cawthorn is a vocal supporter of Trump whose series of unforced errors led top Republican leaders in North Carolina to turn against him. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who endorsed Edwards, said Cawthorn was an embarrassm­ent to his 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 in a news release.

Cawthorn faced negative publicity for speeding and gun violations, as well as for calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug.” And his initial decision to run for reelection elsewhere — only to switch back to the 11th District — didn’t sit well with many locals.

Within days of taking office in early 2021, Cawthorn spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally questionin­g Joe Biden’s presidenti­al election victory that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrecti­on.

Cawthorn soon became a leading spokespers­on for Trump’s “America First” policies and conservati­ves in the culture wars. Trump has endorsed him.

Besides the remark about being invited to an orgy,

Cawthorn said he had seen leaders in the movement to end drug addiction use cocaine. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy reprimande­d him publicly for the remarks.

Cawthorn has been stopped by police on driving citations three times since October and caught with guns at airport checkpoint­s twice since last year, including last month. And videos released in the campaign’s final weeks showed Cawthorn in sexually suggestive poses, which he said were from several years ago — meant to be funny and nothing else.

Cawthorn acknowledg­ed speeding and gun citations as failings, but said the videos were part of a “drip campaign” by his political enemies, of which he has included some Republican­s, to flood the district with negative stories.

Cawthorn was seen as a rising star by many conservati­ves when in 2020 he won a primary runoff for the seat being vacated by Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff.

Cawthorn, who uses a wheelchair after being partially paralyzed from a car accident as a teenager, turned 25 — the constituti­onally mandated minimum age to serve in the House — during the 2020 campaign.

In an election-eve post on his social media site Truth Social, Trump asked primary voters to back him again: “Recently, he made some foolish mistakes, which I don’t believe he’ll make again ... let’s give Madison a second chance!”

Speaking to reporters earlier Tuesday evening at his campaign headquarte­rs in Hendersonv­ille with the result still uncertain, Cawthorn said Trump’s support had been solid.

“I’ve found that most people in politics, if it’s not politicall­y expedient to them, they’ll turn their back on you in a heartbeat,” he said. “But no matter what you are facing, when Donald Trump has your back, he has your back to the end.”

Cawthorn’s biggest political mistake may have occurred last fall, when he decided to run for a different U.S. House seat that could have led to an easier reelection bid, only to return to the 11th District when redistrict­ing litigation shifted the lines again. Edwards and others accuse Cawthorn of trying to walk away from his constituen­ts for political convenienc­e.

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