RALEIGH (AP) — Madison Cawthorn, the U.S. Representative, can cause a rift between the right and left in his North Carolina district.
That’s made the 26-year-old culture warrior a social media political celebrity and successful fundraiser. He is one of the most vocal supporters of former President Barack Obama on Capitol Hill.
However, a series unforced political errors and personal mistakes have brought together both traditional enemies and big-name state Republicans to oppose Cawthorn’s reelection bid. Some of his blunders are headline-grabbing. One example is the one that he claimed he made when he said they were having orgies and snorting cocaine. Some of his actions have been shocking, such as recent videos that show him in sexually suggestive positions.
But at home, the most consequential may have been when he decided to run for a different U.S. House seat, only to return to the mountainous 11th Congressional District that he now represents when redistricting litigation shifted the lines again.
The two top Republican leaders in the General Assembly have thrown their support to a Cawthorn rival — state Sen. Chuck Edwards, one of seven challengers in the May 17 primary. Trump’s two wins in North Carolina and his endorsement of Cawthorn in this year’s primary made it seem likely that he would be reelected in a Republican-leaning district in a strong GOP year.
Now, after only one term, the upstart congressman is facing a difficult primary challenge and a difficult general elections fight, if he survives.
” I don’t know what happened to him, however, I do know that the people of western North Carolina are not represented in Washington, D.C.” Michele Woodhouse, a former Cawthorn ally, is running against him .
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., endorsed Edwards in the race in late March, saying, “Cawthorn has fallen well short of the most basic standards western North Carolina expects from their representatives.” A super PAC aligned with Tillis is taking the unusual action of spending $1.5 million in the district on mailers and TV ads, one of which calls Cawthorn a “reckless embarassment” and “dishonest disaster.”
Cawthorn is fighting back, accusing the Washington establishment and Tillis of trying to shut him down.
” “I have never folded here in Washington, and the swamp hates it for that,” he said in an ad. “They want someone who will make backroom deals to sell out our values and someone who will abandon America First principles.”
The 11th District field became crowded with well-known or well-funded challengers after Cawthorn decided in the fall to run in another district closer to Charlotte under boundaries retooled during redistricting that would have made his path to reelection much easier.
But the statewide House map was struck down by state courts, and its reshaping ultimately forced Cawthorn in late February to return to what is largely the 11th District he currently represents. Edwards, Woodhouse, and other Republicans were running for the position for several months.
“It is clear that his desire was to move someplace and pursue a political career after we, including myself, in this district worked to get him elected,” Edwards stated in an interview. “He turned his back on us.”
Cawthorn’s campaign said he wasn’t available for an interview. Campaign spokesperson Luke Ball wrote in an email that the congressman is “focused on moving forward, uniting the NC-11 GOP, and winning the November election, not relitigating the redistricting process.”
Cawthorn infuriated his fellow Republicans in Congress when he alleged on a podcast that he had been invited to an orgy in Washington and that he had seen leaders in the movement to end drug addiction use cocaine. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, publicly reprimanded Cawthorn for his remarks.
He has been stopped by police three time since October. Two times were for speeding, and one was for driving with a suspended license. In the last year, he was caught at airport checkpoints with guns twice, including two weeks ago. After Russia invaded Ukraine, he called Volodymyr Zelenskyy the “thug”.
” It was like ripping Santa Claus on Christmas Eve,” Chris Cooper, Western Carolina University’s political science professor said.
In a nearly eight-minute video posted on social media last week, Cawthorn apologized for speeding and acknowledged that carrying a gun throu