Madison Cawthorn infuriated his fellow Republicans in Congress by claiming Washington was full of cocaine orgy enthusiasts. He irked Republicans in his home state of North Carolina by thumbing his nose at its power brokers, including the speaker of the state House.
But most of all, he pissed off voters, by utterly ignoring his constituents, compounding his problem with a constant stream of embarrassing headlines. And because of that, Cawthorn narrowly lost his re-election bid in a Republican primary Tuesday to a conservative Republican endorsed by both of North Carolina’s Republican U.S. senators.
“I am a registered Republican in North Carolina & I just voted against Madison Cawthorn,” a voter who described herself as “planning on leaving” the GOP posted to Twitter. “You’re welcome.”
“Chuck Edwards isn’t much better,” another voter in Haywood County tweeted in a reply to Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a frequent critic of former President Donald Trump and Cawthorn. “However, as an NC 11 constituent, and an independent voter who voted in the Republican primary today to oust Cawthorn, I’ll take the ‘w.’”
Cawthorn, who cast one of his first votes in Congress to overturn the 2020 election, said last fall that he would move to a different congressional district than the one he represented—and moved into the district Republican mapmakers drew for state House Speaker Tim Moore.
“It did surprise me that someone would move from another area to a different district they didn’t live in to try to represent it, but I’ll let the voters of that district decide that,” Moore told the Charlotte Observer at the time. (Cawthorn eventually jumped back to represent the same district, after the original map was struck down by the state Supreme Court.)
Cawthorn was also plagued by a seemingly never-ending stream of scandals over the past few years. There were the allegations of rampant sexual harassment from his former college classmates; speeding tickets; multiple incidents where he tried to bring a gun through airport security; and his allegations about Republican members of Congress using cocaine in front of him and inviting him to orgies.
Cawthorn eventually walked that back, but not before U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis endorsed Chuck Edwards. After the “orgy” comments, several videos of Cawthorn were leaked, including one where he was naked in bed with his cousin.
But constituents were also frustrated by Cawthorn’s lack of visibility in the district. “I’ve not seen him since the election,” one Republican in McDowell County told the Raleigh News & Observer, which noted that though Cawthorn’s website lists four district offices, just two had a phone number, and only one where a staffer picked up on the second call.
“There are several people running for Congress now that would be better Congressmen, and could serve the constituents better,” real estate agent David Patneaude, who voted for Cawthorn in 2020 and supported Edwards this year, told the News & Observer. “I like the guy, personally. But I do think there’s something going on.”
Edwards may have also benefited from more liberal-leaning independent voters in his district; in North Carolina, unaffiliated voters can choose which primary they want to vote in.
Though the district is solidly Republican, it does include all of Buncombe County and Asheville, where Edwards won by double-digit margins. Unofficially, there were approximately 2,100 more Republican primary votes cast in Buncombe County in Tuesday’s primary, which included six candidates aside from Edwards and Cawthorn, than there were in 2020—when voters were also choosing their nominees for all statewide offices, the U.S. Senate, and the presidency. (Cawthorn was trailing Edwards by fewer than 1,400 votes as of Wednesday.)
“Pulled a Republican ballot just to stick a big fuck you to Cawthorn and to vote for the lesser evils in other local offices that largely went uncontested by Democrats,” a voter in nearby Henderson County tweeted.
But even registered Republicans were tired of Cawthorn. Kathie Swearengin, a73-year-old retired social worker, told the Asheville Citizen-Times that she’d had “such high hopes” for Cawthorn when he became the youngest congressman in modern American history two years ago. But this time she was ready to vote for anybody else. Literally.
“To be perfectly honest, I cannot tell you the name of the person I voted for,” Swearengin said. “It was more voting against someone. I think when the ballots are counted, it will be obvious.”
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