Madison Cawthorn concedes NC GOP primary to Chuck Edwards, losing bid for second term

·4 min read

A deluge of scandals cost Rep. Madison Cawthorn his seat Tuesday, as state Sen. Chuck Edwards narrowly defeated the first-term incumbent for the Republican nomination in the Western North Carolina district that sent him to Congress two years ago.

Cawthorn left his campaign headquarters in Hendersonville just before 10 p.m. and called Edwards to concede the race soon afterward, Cawthorn campaign spokesperson Luke Ball told reporters.

With unofficial results showing Edwards winning, he is set to face off against Democratic nominee Jasmine Beach-Ferrara in the general election on Nov. 8 in the 11th Congressional District.

Earlier, Cawthorn spoke to supporters and the media, predicting he would end up ahead.

“The race is very close,” Cawthorn said after coming out to boisterous cheers from supporters, who had crowded together by the door.

State Sen. Chuck Edwards laughs with supporter Bronwyn Lance, right, at the Mountain Lodge in Flat Rock, N.C. after Edwards defeated Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the NC-11 primary Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
State Sen. Chuck Edwards laughs with supporter Bronwyn Lance, right, at the Mountain Lodge in Flat Rock, N.C. after Edwards defeated Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the NC-11 primary Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

‘Coordinated strike’

Cawthorn, the youngest member of the 117th Congress, had already earned national attention in his first term for his support of former President Donald Trump, his far-right beliefs and his controversial comments and behavior. But beginning in March, a series of scandals, which he called a drip campaign from his Republican colleagues, plagued the congressman.

It began when he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “a thug” and the Ukrainian government “evil.” It escalated when he went on a podcast and said his congressional colleagues participated in orgies and did key bumps of cocaine.

From there he was charged with driving with a revoked license, was caught at an airport for the second time with a gun, accused of insider trading, while photos of him draped in lingerie on a cruise ship and a video of him naked in bed with another person leaked.

In his comments Tuesday, Cawthorn addressed some of the leaked photos and videos and said they were part of a “coordinated strike” against his reelection bid.

He also thanked former President Donald Trump for staying supportive of him despite the series of unflattering headlines in recent weeks. After making very brief remarks, Cawthorn met with a couple of supporters and signed a Trump yard sign.

Earlier on Tuesday night, outside Cawthorn’s campaign headquarters, a group of supporters had gathered, along with campaign staff and members of the media.

Frank Burdette, a consultant from Hendersonville who is a friend of Cawthorn’s, said he is supporting the first-term congressman’s reelection bid because Cawthorn “fits the profile of a conservative Republican.”

Burdette, 59, told reporters he believed many of the recent unflattering headlines about Cawthorn were “lies” and were promoted by the “swamp,” a reference to establishment politicians.

Asked if some of Cawthorn’s recent scandals have embarrassed the district, Burdette said most people would understand what it’s like to be “young.”

“I’m thankful that they didn’t have a phone with a camera in my life,” he added.

Cawthorn’s behavior cost him the support of North Carolina’s top Republican leaders, including U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, state Senate leader Phil Berger and state House Speaker Tim Moore. The three Republicans instead threw support behind Edwards.

Burdette said he was unsurprised that Tillis backed Edwards, calling both of them “RINOs,” a short-hand for the phrase “Republican in Name Only.”

“What they stand for is not what the Republican Party should stand for,” Burdette said.

Challenging Republicans

The state redrew the congressional districts in November after census data gave North Carolina an additional member of Congress.

A new district south of Charlotte was believed to be hand-drawn for Moore.

Cawthorn put out a video on Twitter shocking many by saying he would run in that district, outside his home county of Henderson, to challenge “go-along-to-get-along Republicans.” Many saw that as a direct attack on Moore. The 11th district, though still largely Republican, was also diluted of right-leaning voters, making the district west of Charlotte more favorable for Cawthorn.

A Cawthorn supporter, 11th District GOP Chairwoman Michele Woodhouse, said she would run to replace Cawthorn in his home district.

Cawthorn took a plan to Trump at his home, Mar-a-Lago, in Florida, asking him to support a particular Republican in each of North Carolina’s 14 districts. In Cawthorn’s home district, he asked Trump to endorse Woodhouse.

But Cawthorn didn’t anticipate that North Carolina lawmakers would be told that their congressional map was politically gerrymandered to favor Republicans and would need to be redrawn.

State lawmakers redrew Cawthorn’s adopted district blue, forcing him home and into a race against Woodhouse and the other six Republicans running there.