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Madison Cawthorn Loses GOP Primary in North Carolina Amid Series of Scandals

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 5/18/2022 Lisa Hagen
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Embattled Rep. Madison Cawthorn lost the Republican primary for his North Carolina seat on Tuesday night, a stunning downfall for a one-term congressman after a series of scandals that prompted a fierce GOP-led effort to unseat him.

State Sen. Chuck Edwards prevailed in the race for the GOP nomination, with the help of some of Cawthorn’s own colleagues. The leading candidate needed more than 30% of the vote to avoid a runoff election in July. Edwards was narrowly leading Cawthorn, 33.5% to 31.7%, when the congressman conceded the race to his competitor, according to CNN.

Cawthorn is known for his hard-right ideology and a penchant for provocative remarks like calling Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskyy a “thug” after Russia invaded the Eastern European country. But fellow Republicans’ faith in him eroded when Cawthorn accused members of Congress of using drugs and inviting him to an “orgy.”

From there, Republicans started to rally against him. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California rebuked his behavior after others in the conference vented frustrations, but the 26-year-old congressman never faced consequences in Congress.

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But he faced an almost immediate ripple effect on the electoral front. Republicans, including Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, endorsed Edwards in the primary. A political action committee affiliated with Tillis ran ads against Cawthorn, claiming that he’ll “lie about anything” and is “an attention-seeking embarrassment.”

And then came the steady stream of unflattering and salacious headlines about Cawthorn. He’s had a few driving citations and was stopped twice at airport security for illegally attempting to bring a gun on a plane. Other reports, while personally compromising, were less legally problematic and involved photos of him wearing women’s lingerie. On top of that, he previously faced allegations of sexual harassment, which he has denied.

Cawthorn, who was partially paralyzed after a car accident at age 18, has forcefully defended himself and said that “blackmail won’t win.” He accused establishment Republicans of selling out and not adhering to former President Donald Trump’s America First doctrine.

As a top ally of the former president, Cawthorn maintained his support from Trump headed into Tuesday’s primary. While his preferred candidate lost the House race, Trump had more success elsewhere in North Carolina as Rep. Ted Budd easily secured the GOP nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Richard Burr.

Tuesday’s loss is a remarkable end to Cawthorn’s political career in Congress after serving just one term. In November 2020, he became one of the youngest members ever elected to the House.

But now in the general election, Edwards will face Democratic nominee Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who easily won her primary. Republicans are expected to win in November to represent the 11th District, which is the westernmost part of the state that includes Asheville.

Copyright 2022 U.S. News & World Report


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