Inside the final hours of Madison Cawthorn’s reelection campaign

·6 min read
Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com

Election night at Madison Cawthorn’s campaign headquarters in Hendersonville started with the vibe of a warm, summertime neighborhood get-together. Supporters were greeted with food trucks, coolers of drinks, and corn hole boards for the kids.

But there was something much more serious at stake: Would the first-term congressman win the Republican primary for a shot at a second term? Would his short time in elected office succumb to the myriad of controversies, or would the support of former President Trump carry him to the general election?

Within minutes of polls closing, early returns started coming from across the 11th Congressional District. In a field of eight GOP candidates, initial results showed Cawthorn trailing his main opponent, state Sen. Chuck Edwards, by a few thousand votes.

The night was still young, but as the results continued to come in, the path for Cawthorn to overcome his opponent’s lead narrowed.

Earlier that day, Cawthorn had tweeted out to his following of nearly half a million accounts: “Today’s the day we send a message to the Establishment and the Swamp: you have no power over the people. America first will win.”

Cawthorn continued to trail Edwards the rest of the night, though, including in Henderson County, which had been home base for both candidates.

Reporters were told Cawthorn would make an initial statement about the results shortly after 9 p.m. That would be pushed back by another half-hour or so. By 9:20 p.m., nearly three-quarters of the district’s 275 precincts had reported votes.

Edwards maintained a lead of less than 2,000 votes. Cawthorn’s fate was practically determined in the next 30 minutes.

Around 9:45 p.m., the 26-year-old came outside to the densely packed crowd of cheering supporters.

“The race is very close,” Cawthorn said confidently. He thanked Trump for continuing to support him, through the day of the primary, despite the so-called “drip campaign” of unflattering headlines that had dogged his campaign in the final couple of weeks.

He spoke hopefully, telling his supporters that he believed the remaining ballots would break for him by enough of a margin to overcome the gap and defeat Edwards outright, avoiding even a runoff election. Cawthorn talked with a few supporters and signed a Trump yard sign before heading back inside his headquarters.

On social media, political observers disagreed with Cawthorn’s assessment. Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report suggested that a path to victory no longer existed.

“I’ve seen enough: Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R) has lost renomination to state Sen. Chuck Edwards (R) in the #NC11 GOP primary,” Wasserman said in a tweet that was shared thousands of times on Twitter.

Meanwhile, reporters waited for Cawthorn to make another statement once it was clear he wouldn’t overcome Edwards’ votes.

Instead, soon after 10 p.m., Cawthorn spokesperson Luke Ball told reporters that the congressman had left the watch party and would watch the conclusion of the race from home.

Minutes later, Ball returned with another update.

With just over 1,300 votes separating them, Cawthorn had called Edwards to concede the race. The embattled congressman’s bid for reelection was over. On Twitter, Cawthorn said voters in his district should “rally behind the Republican ticket” to defeat Democratic nominee, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara.

The next morning, Edwards said that Cawthorn had been “extremely professional, very gracious, very congenial” in his concession phone call. Cawthorn also expressed a desire to look forward to the general election and help Edwards keep the district in GOP control “in absolutely any way we see fit.”

By Thursday afternoon, Cawthorn posted on social media that “Dark MAGA” needs to “truly take command” to put Trump back in power.

“We have an enemy to defeat, but we will never be able to defeat them until we defeat the cowardly and weak member of our own party. Their days are numbered. We are coming. ... “The time for gentile (sic) politics as usual has come to an end.”

An Election Day recap

Covering a ton of races requires a ton of reporters; in total, we had almost two dozen people in the field, at campaign watch parties, or in our newsroom, reporting and updating the state of all of these races as results came in. If you need to catch up on what transpired on Election Day (and Night):

Check out this helpful list and interactive maps of all the results.

Prefer to listen to a recap of the primary? Catch a special bonus-edition of our Under The Dome politics podcast, in which Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan and Will Doran review what happened and what we learned.

And here’s a few stories from our team breaking down more election-related takeaways.

“NC’s top Democrats and Republicans rebuke the party dissenters who crossed them.” Danielle Battaglia and Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan review the efforts of top Republicans like U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis to end Cawthorn’s campaign, and Gov. Roy Cooper’s efforts to knock a fellow Democrat, Kirk deViere, out of the state Senate.

Does Trump’s endorsement still reign supreme in NC? These 3 races have answers.” The showing in those three primaries shows the twice-impeached former president remains popular among GOP voters, but his endorsement alone doesn’t guarantee victory, Will Doran, Adam Wagner and Lars Dolder report.

And in non-election news

Biden housing plan includes first attempts to slow corporate landlords active in NC.” Local and state officials have been slow to react to corporate landlords buying up single-family homes. On Monday, the White House took what may be a concrete step in a solution, Payton Guion and Tyler Dukes report. The announcement comes after The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer published an investigation, “Security for Sale,” which revealed how the industry sometimes hurts tenants and neighborhoods.

Why NC Republicans aren’t planning to immediately try banning abortion.” Wednesday, the day after a late Election Day, was the first day of the 2022 legislative session, Will Doran reports. N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters his main focus is going to be on the budget.

“NC Republicans considering state employee and teacher raises, tax cuts this session.” Speaking of the budget, Moore hinted that legislators will look into raises for state employees and teachers, as well as some tax relief, Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan reports.

What we’re reading

The 2020 census significantly miscounted population numbers in 14 states, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Thursday, NPR reports.

The N&O asked a range of people to submit a list of five books they wish everyone would read. Here are their lists, including from N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper; former NCDOT Secretary Maj. Gen. Jim Trogdon; and Donald Bryson, president and CSO of the John Locke Foundation.

Thanks for reading. See you next week. In the meantime, tune into our stories, our tweets and our Under the Dome podcast for more developments.

— By Avi Bajpai, reporter for The News & Observer. Email me at abajpai@newsobserver.com.