A barrage of scandals appeared to cost Rep. Madison Cawthorn her seat on Tuesday, as State Senator Chuck Edwards narrowly led the incumbent to the Republican nomination in the western district of North Carolina that l sent to Congress two years ago.
Cawthorn left his campaign headquarters in Hendersonville just before 10 p.m. and called Edwards to concede the race shortly after, campaign spokesman Luke Ball told reporters.
Edwards would face Democratic candidate Jasmine Beach-Ferrara in the Nov. 8 general election in the 11th congressional district.
Nearly 99% of precincts in the 11th congressional district were reporting results as of 10:30 p.m., and Edwards maintained a slight lead over the first-term lawmaker.
Earlier, Cawthorn spoke to fans and the media, predicting he would finish ahead.
“The race is very tight,” Cawthorn said after walking out to loud cheers from fans, who had gathered near the gate.
Cawthorn, the youngest member of the 117th Congress, had already drawn 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 starting in March, a series of scandals, which he called a drip campaign from fellow Republicans, plagued the congressman.
It all started when he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug” and the Ukrainian government “evil”. It escalated when he went on a podcast and said his congressional colleagues had been in orgies and had cocaine bumps.
From there, he was charged with driving with a revoked license, was arrested at an airport for the second time with a gun, charged with insider trading, while photos of him draped in lingerie on a boat of cruise 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 re-election bid.
He also thanked former President Donald Trump for supporting him despite the series of unflattering headlines in recent weeks. After making very brief remarks, Cawthorn met with a few supporters and signed a Trump yard sign.
Earlier Tuesday evening, outside the Cawthorn campaign headquarters, a group of supporters had gathered, along with campaign staff and members of the media.
Frank Burdette, a Hendersonville consultant who is a friend of Cawthorn, said he supported the congressman’s first-term re-election 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 promoted by the “swamp”, a reference to establishment politicians.
When asked if any of the recent Cawthorn scandals have embarrassed the district, Burdette said most people would understand what it’s like to be “young.”
“I’m grateful they didn’t have a camera phone in my life,” he added.
Cawthorn’s behavior cost him the support of key Republican leaders in North Carolina, including U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, State Senate Leader Phil Berger, and State House Speaker Tim Moore. The three Republicans instead threw their support behind Edwards.
Burdette said he was not surprised that Tillis supported Edwards, calling them both “RINO”, shorthand for the phrase “Republican in name only”.
“What they stand for is not what the Republican Party should stand for,” Burdette said.
The state redrew congressional districts in November after census data gave North Carolina an additional member of Congress.
A new neighborhood south of Charlotte was thought to have been hand-drawn for Moore.
Cawthorn posted a shocking video on Twitter saying he would be running in that district, outside of his home county of Henderson, to challenge “Getting along Republicans.” Many saw this as a direct attack on Moore. The 11th District, though still largely Republican, was also diluted with right-wing voters, making the district west of Charlotte more favorable to Cawthorn.
A Cawthorn supporter, 11th District GOP Chairwoman Michele Woodhouse, said she would run to replace Cawthorn in her home district.
Cawthorn presented a plan to Trump at his home, Mar-a-Lago, Fla., asking him to support a particular Republican in each of North Carolina’s 14 districts. In Cawthorn’s home neighborhood, he asked Trump to endorse Woodhouse.
But Cawthorn did not anticipate that North Carolina lawmakers would be told that their congressional map had been politically manipulated to favor Republicans and that it would have to be redrawn.
State lawmakers redesigned Cawthorn’s adopted district blue, forcing him to return home and enter a race against Woodhouse and the six other Republicans running there.
This story was originally published May 17, 2022 8:20 p.m.