Politics|Madison Cawthorn, 24, Upsets Trump-Endorsed Favorite in North Carolina
A 24-year-old real estate investor won the Republican nomination on Tuesday to fill a western North Carolina congressional seat vacated by Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, unexpectedly defeating the former congressman’s handpicked successor who had been endorsed by President Trump.
Madison Cawthorn was on track on Tuesday night to defeat Lynda Bennett with nearly two-thirds of the vote, according to The Associated Press. The surprise victory — and the overwhelming margin — was remarkable given Ms. Bennett’s two-to-one fund-raising advantage and the vocal support of Mr. Meadows and Mr. Trump for her candidacy.
Though Republicans are likely to hold onto the seat in November in the solidly conservative district, the result was a stinging loss for both men. Mr. Meadows and his wife had a personal relationship with Ms. Bennett, 62, before she ran to succeed him. Mr. Trump had recorded a robocall for Ms. Bennett’s campaign, and her loss ended his streak of undefeated Republican primary endorsements, a point of pride he often boasts about.
Mr. Cawthorn will turn 25 before November’s elections, making him just old enough to be eligible to be a member of the House. If he wins, he would be the youngest lawmaker in the modern history of Congress and one of the youngest ever elected. The precise ages of several members of the House and Senate serving around the nation’s founding are unknown.
In a statement after his victory, Mr. Cawthorn made a direct appeal to Mr. Trump and his supporters who backed Ms. Bennett.
“I want to make something clear: I support our great president,” he said. “I do not believe this election has been a referendum on the president’s influence. The people of western North Carolina are wise and discerning. You observed both candidates and simply made the choice you believed is best for our district.”
Mr. Cawthorn campaigned as the embodiment of a new generation of politicians on the right who are ready to go toe-to-toe with young officials ascending on the progressive left, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
“While the far left is lighting our cities on fire, we are lifting the light of liberty,” he said in his statement.
Mr. Cawthorn finished behind Ms. Bennett in a 12-person primary in March, but no candidate won enough votes to avoid a runoff. In the weeks since, he has run as Ms. Bennett’s conservative equal, emphasizing his support for gun rights and his opposition to abortion and “socialized medicine.” He tried to turn Ms. Bennett’s high-profile endorsements against her, arguing she would arrive in Washington already beholden to interests beyond her constituents.
Some Republicans in the district were bitter that Mr. Meadows announced he would not seek re-election just before the December filing deadline and speculated that he had timed the move to give Ms. Bennett an edge in the race.
Mr. Cawthorn has no government experience. He was nominated by Mr. Meadows in 2014 to attend the United States Naval Academy, but a severe car crash left him paralyzed from the waist down and reliant on a wheelchair. He featured the story prominently in his campaign. A photograph on his campaign website showed Mr. Cawthorn dressed in hunting gear while in his wheelchair, with a rifle slung over his shoulder.
Democrats have nominated Morris Davis, an Air Force veteran who goes by Moe and who was the chief prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The district, which encompasses the state’s far-western counties in the Smoky Mountains, is considered safe Republican territory, even after North Carolina was forced to redraw its congressional map for this fall’s elections.
North Carolina Republicans moved quickly to rally around Mr. Cawthorn on Tuesday night. Michael Whatley, the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, said he was “completely confident” that Mr. Cawthorn would win in November.
“He will be a great fighter for Smoky Mountain families, and always put America first,” Mr. Whatley said.