NC Rep. Cawthorn returns to run in far-mountain district

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn refiled candidacy papers on Monday and will now run for reelection in a district that largely follows the boundaries of the far-mountain district that the first-term Republican currently represents.

Cawthorn, 26, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, voted against certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory and has voiced false claims of election fraud. He also spoke at the Jan. 6, 2021, rally that preceded the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — an act that some critics have argued should disqualify him from running again for Congress.

In December, Cawthorn had filed to run for an open seat further east that had been created by the state legislature in November for the once-a-decade redistricting process. It was considered a more pro-GOP district than the district covering where he lives in Henderson County.

But after the state's redistricting map was retooled twice due to litigation, that district stretching from part of Charlotte west to the foothills essentially no longer existed. Representing that region could have forced him to run against GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry.

The latest 11th District he'll now run in, however, leans Republican and contains all or portions of 15 out of the 17 far-western counties that were in the 11th District from which he was elected in 2020.

“Western North Carolinians want a fighter in Congress. With their support, I look forward to returning to Washington as a sophomore member and helping enact major change with a historic Republican majority,” Cawthorn said in a news release. He filed his candidacy paperwork, which included withdrawing from the previous district race, with the State Board of Elections on Monday afternoon. Cawthorn had until Tuesday to withdraw.

Cawthorn, a close supporter of former President Donald Trump, had filed in December to run in a 13th District that contained all or portions of three counties that he currently represents. At the time, the far-western district was expected to be more politically competitive.

The state Supreme Court struck down those lines and the entire congressional map in early February, saying they were illegal partisan gerrymanders. The GOP-controlled General Assembly passed a new map Feb. 17, but a three-judge panel reworked it again last week, saying it didn't meet fairness standards mentioned by the state justices.

Candidate filing under the map adopted by the trial judges,resumed Thursday. The next day, Republican legislative leaders asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the use of the court-adopted map. The case is pending.

Cawthorn will face some challengers in the May 17 Republican primary, including state Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County, who had been running before in the state's far-western district. Edwards said he refiled on Monday for the 11th District.

In what appears to be a swipe at Cawthorn, Edwards tweeted: “I welcome all candidates — old and new — to the NC-11 race. I stand firm in my unwavering commitment to this district. I would never place the people of Charlotte over the people of (western North Carolina)."

The court-mandated redistricting adjustments also derailed, for now, an effort by some voters to challenge Cawthorn's candidacy qualifications based on the U.S. Constitution. Roughly a dozen voters from the anticipated 13th District filed challenge requests, but the State Board of Elections said last week those challenges wouldn't go forward now that the 13th District had shifted 200 miles (320 kilometers) east.

The voters argued Cawthorn was disqualified from running because he fails to comply with a portion of a post-Civil War amendment to the Constitution pertaining to insurrections because of his involvement in the rally that preceded the U.S. Capitol riot.

Speaking at the “Save America Rally” days after he was sworn in to Congress, Cawthorn said the “crowd has some fight in it.”

“The Democrats, with all the fraud they have done in this election, the Republicans hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice,” he added. “Make no mistake about it, they do not want you to be heard.”

Cawthorn said that portion of the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to him and that he has “never engaged in, or would ever engage in, an insurrection against the United States.”

A group helping the voters with their lawsuit said last week that new candidate challenges would be filed in the district that Cawthorn selects. A federal lawsuit filed by Cawthorn seeking to have the entire candidate challenge process struck down as unconstitutional is pending. A hearing is scheduled for March 21.