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Scandal-plagued North Carolina U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn goes down to primary defeat

Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd will face Democrat Cheri Beasley in key fall U.S. Senate race

North CarolinaRALEIGH (CFP) – Republican voters in Western North Carolina brought the political career of scandal-plagued U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn crashing down in Tuesday’s primary, while voters statewide set up a fall U.S. Senate contest between Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd and Democrat Cheri Beasley.

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North Carolina U.S. Senate nominees Ted Budd and Cheri Beasley

Budd, endorsed by Donald Trump, took 59% to win the GOP primary, ahead of former governor Pat McCrory at 24% and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker at 9%.

In November, he’ll face Beasley, the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court who easily won her party’s nomination.

North Carolina is considered one of the Democrats’ prime pick-up opportunities in the fall, which will make the likely race between Budd and Beasley a high-decibel, high-spending affair that gets outsized national attention.

In the state’s 11th U.S. House district, which takes in 15 counties in the western end of the state, Cawthorn – elected to office in 2020 at just 25 – was defeated by State Senator Chuck Edwards of Hendersonville, who had the backing of state GOP leaders.

Edwards took 34% to 32% for Cawthorn, who conceded the race trailing by about 1,500 votes.

Cawthorn — once seen as a rising star in the MAGA wing of the GOP — has been enmeshed in a bevy of controversy and questionable behavior: He was caught twice trying to take a gun through airport security, cited twice for driving with a revoked license, and infuriated colleagues by musing in a podcast that he had been invited to orgies and witnessed cocaine use.

He also raised eyebrows by dismissing of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “thug” and has been featured in a photo wearing women’s lingerie and in a video naked in bed with a male friend.

He also made a political blunder by abandoning the 11th District to run in a neighboring district, then reversing course after a state court drew a new map that obliterated his new district.

Trump endorsed Cawthorn and urged voters on the eve of the primary to give him another chance, though the former president conceded Cawthorn had made “some foolish mistakes.”

In other primary contests, American Idol finalist Clay Aiken lost in his second run for the U.S. House, while former Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers’s comeback bid was thwarted by Bo Hines, a 26-year-old political newcomer and former college football star who appears on his way to riding a Trump endorsement to Washington.

Here is a look at other races of note on Tuesday’s ballot:

1st District: Democratic State Senator Don Davis won his party’s nomination for this open seat over former State Senator Erica Smith, who got out of the U.S. Senate race to run here instead. He will face Republican Sandy Smith, a farmer and businesswoman from Nash County, who had a narrow win in the GOP primary.

4th District: Democratic State Senator Valerie Foushee from Chapel Hill cruised to an easy primary win over Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman to win political office in North Carolina, and Aiken. She will favored in the fall in this heavily Democratic district.

6th District: Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning is trying to hang on to this seat, which became more Republican under the final court-drawn map. She will face Republican Christian Castelli, a businessman and former U.S. Army Special Forces officer from Randolph County.

13th District: Armed with Trump’s endorsement, Hines, a 26-year-old political newcomer and former college football star who did not live in the district before running here, avoided a runoff in this newly configured, Republican-leaning district, centered in suburban Raleigh. Among the candidates he defeated was Ellmers, who was trying to make a comeback after losing a Republican primary for her seat in 2016.

14th District: The contest in this newly configured swing district in metro will be between Democratic State Senator Jeff Jackson, who exited the U.S. Senate race to run here and Pat Harrington, a Green Beret and firearms dealer.

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U.S. Senate race, Madison Cawthorn’s fate on ballot Tuesday in North Carolina primary

Donald Trump-backed U.S. Rep. Ted Budd favorite for GOP nod in Senate primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

North CarolinaRALEIGH (CFP) — Voters across North Carolina will pick their nominees Tuesday for a pivotal U.S. Senate race that could determine party control, and voters in the western panhandle will decide if Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s political career gets derailed after a string of controversies and bad headlines.

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U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn faces stiff primary challenge Tuesday

Nominees will also be selected for U.S. House seats being contested under new maps. Three open seats have drawn crowded fields, which include American Idol finalist Clay Aiken – making his second run for Congress — and former Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Elmers, who is trying to make a comeback after losing her seat in 2016.

Local and legislative seats are also up Tuesday; statewide offices are not on the ballot this year.

Polls for in-person voting open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.

The Senate race features a heated 14-candidate Republican contest expected to come down to a race between U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker and former governor Pat McCrory. The incumbent, Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr, is retiring.

Budd has been vocally backed by Donald Trump, who came to the Tar Heel State to campaign for him. Under state law, he only needs 30% of the vote to avoid a runoff, and recent polling indicates he’s likely to clear that threshold.

Eleven Democrats are running for their party’s nomination. Former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley – who has raised nearly $10 million for the race – is the prohibitive favorite.

North Carolina is considered as one of the Democrats’ prime pick-up opportunities in the fall, which will make the likely race between Budd and Beasley a high-decibel, high-spending affair that gets outsized national attention.

In the state’s 11th U.S. House district, which takes in 15 counties in the western end of the state, Cawthorn – elected to office in 2020 at just 25 — is battling for his political life against seven Republican challengers and the active opposition of state GOP leaders, including U.S. Senator Thom Tillis.

Cawthorn has been enmeshed in a bevy of controversy and questionable behavior: He was caught twice trying to take a gun through airport security, cited twice for driving with a revoked license, and infurated colleagues by musing in a podcast that he had been invited to orgies and witnessed cocaine use.

He also raised eyebrows by dismissing of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “thug” and has been featured in a photo wearing women’s lingerie and in a video naked in bed with a male friend.

He also made a political blunder by abandoning the 11th District to run in a neighboring district, then reversing course after a state court drew a new map that obliterated his new district.

However, Cawthorn has strong name recognition, a fervent following in the MAGA base and, perhaps most importantly, the backing of Trump – which could be enough to clear the 30% threshold and avoid a runoff.

His chief Republican competitors are State Senator Chuck Edwards of Hendersonville and Michelle Woodhouse, the Republican party chair in the district.

Here is a look at some other U.S. House races on the ballot Tuesday.

1st District: Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield gave up this seat in eastern North Carolina after Republican state legislators made the seat more Republican, setting off a scramble in both parties. Although the state Supreme Court later reserved some of those changes, there are still four Democrats and eight Republicans in the race.

Among the Democrats are State Senator Don Davis and former State Senator Erica Smith, who got out of the U.S. Senate race to run here instead. On the Republican side, Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson and Sandy Smith, a farmer and businesswoman from Nash County, have both raised more than $1 million for the race.

4th District: Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price is retiring in this district, which includes Durham and Chapel Hill, drawing a field of eight Democrats to succeed him, including Aiken, who contested a Raleigh-area district in 2014. Leading the field are State Senator Valerie Foushee from Chapel Hill and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman to win political office in North Carolina.

6th District: Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning is trying to hang on to this seat, which became more Republican under the final court-drawn map. Seven Republicans are vying to take her on; the GOP fundraising leader is Christian Castelli, a businessman and former U.S. Army Special Forces officer from Randolph County.

13th District: This newly configured, Republican-leaning district, centered in suburban Raleigh, has drawn eight Republicans, including Ellmers, and five Democrats. Trump waded into this district to endorse Bo Hines, a 26-year-old political newcomer and former college football star who did not live in the district before running here, a move that angered local Republicans.

14th District: This newly configured swing district in metro Charlotte drew two challengers from each party. Democratic State Senator Jeff Jackson exited the U.S. Senate race to run here and is likely to face Republican Pat Harrington, a Green Beret and firearms dealer.

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Political Tornado: Can North Carolina U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn survive his penchant for controversy?

Decision to switch districts, comments about cocaine use and orgies have put his political future in jeopardy

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

North CarolinaASHEVILLE (CFP) — When Madison Cawthorn came out of nowhere to win a North Carolina U.S. House seat in 2020 at the tender age of 25, he was seen as a handsome, fresh-faced rising star in the Republican firmament, an ardent partisan of Donald Trump with a compelling personal story of overcoming hardship.

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U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-North Carolina

Now, less than two years later, a series of missteps and controversies has alienated GOP colleagues in the House, drawn active opposition to his re-election from top state Republicans, and landed him in a crowded primary where he’s fighting for his political life.

So, can Cawthorn regroup, retool and survive, or will his political career crash ignominiously after barely taking flight?

To be sure, Cawthorn has significant assets –- strong name recognition, a fervent following among the MAGA base, and a reputation as a passionate foe of liberalism in all of its forms. He has raised $2.9 million, nearly three times as much as any of his primary opponents and a massive haul for a district without expensive media markets.

Most importantly, he has been endorsed by Trump, who invited him to speak at an April 9 rally in Selma even as House Republican colleagues were setting their hair on fire over Cawthorn’s ill-considered podcast musings about being invited to orgies and witnessing cocaine use.

That controversy – coming on the heels of Cawthorn’s dismissal of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “thug” and news that he was arrested for driving on a revoked license – prompted both of North Carolina’s U.S. senators and the two top Republicans in the legislature to publicly support one of Cawthorn’s primary opponents, State Senator Chuck Edwards from Hendersonville.

Cawthorn was also on the receiving end of a talking to from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who bluntly told reporters that Cawthorn wasn’t telling the truth and had lost his trust.

Cawthorn has shown little sign of being chastened by the experience, issuing a statement afterward saying he “will not back down to the mob” and adding: “My comments on a recent podcast appearance calling out corruption have been used by the left and the media to disparage my Republican colleagues and falsely insinuate their involvement in illicit activities.”

But perhaps Cawthorn’s most consequential political blunder was his decision to abandon the 11th District in Western North Carolina, where he was elected in 2020, to run for re-election instead in a new district closer to Charlotte, created by Republican legislators as part of a map gerrymandered to the party’s advantage.

The state Supreme Court threw out that map and adopted a new one that obliterated Cawthorn’s new district, prompting him to return to the 11th. But by that time, seven Republicans had already entered the race, and all of them decided to stay.

Had he not initially forsaken the district, Cawthorn would probably have had an easy road through the primary and been the favorite in November in a conservative, pro-Trump district. Now, he faces a dogfight in which the overriding issue will be him – his judgment, his temperament, and his behavior.

However, what may rescue Cawthorn in the end is North Carolina’s unique primary system, which only requires a candidate to get 30% of the vote to avoid a runoff. So his name recognition and MAGA support could be enough to triumph in an eight-candidate field.

Edwards has consolidated support from the party establishment.  But he’s lagged in fundraising behind another competitor, Bruce O’Connell, a hotel owner from Haywood County who drew national attention for fighting the Biden administration’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Also in the race in Michelle Woodhouse, the Republican party chair for the 11th District, who bills herself as the “America First” candidate in the race and was endorsed by Cawthorn as his replacement when he moved to the different district.

If the anti-Cawthorn vote divides between these contenders, he’s likely to finish first and will win if he can clear 30%.

Waiting in the wings for whoever survives is Democratic Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, a pastor and LGBTQ activist who has raised $1.2 million so far for the race.

This is not district that has been in play in recent years, although a Democrat held it as recently as 2013. But Cawthorn’s presence in the race has clearly helped Beach-Ferrara’s fundraising, and she’ll raise even more if he survives the primary.

This plays into the argument by Cawthorn’s primary opponents that, given his flaws, he’s vulnerable to a Democrat in a way they are not. Whether that argument gains traction may depend on whether the tornado of controversy surrounding Madison Cawthorn dissipates — or continues to churn.

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North Carolina U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn calls Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug”

Video critiquing Ukrainian leader comes to light on same day newspaper reveals Cawthorn was busted for driving on revoked license

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

North CarolinaASHEVILLE, North Carolina (CFP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may be viewed around the world as a bold freedom fighter standing up for his people against a tyrannical dictator – but not, apparently, by North Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn.

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U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-North Carolina

WRAL-TV in Raleigh obtained a video of Cawthorn speaking at a constituent event where he calls Zelenskyy a “thug” and tells the audience to “remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

It was unclear where the video was shot. However, Republican political guru Karl Rove, who disclosed the video’s existence in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, said the remarks were made at a town hall event in Asheville over the weekend.

On Wednesday, Cawthorn was one of just 17 House members who voted against imposing an oil embargo on Russia for invading Ukraine.

The disclosure of the video came on the same day that the Asheville Citizen Times revealed that Cawthorn had been charged with driving on a revoked driver’s license after being pulled over on March 3 in Cleveland County, when a state trooper saw his vehicle cross the center line.

It is the second time Cawthorn has been charged with driving on a revoked license, and he also has two pending citations for speeding in Buncombe and Polk counties, the Citizen Times reported.

He could face up to 20 days in jail if convicted for driving on a revoked license.

Shortly after WRAL reported on the video, Cawthorn took to Twitter to try to walk back his remarks, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine “disgusting.”

However, he also said “leaders, including Zelensky, should NOT push misinformation on America,” posting a link to a Reddit site that accuses Ukraine of spreading misinformation about the war.

Cawthorn also said that while he was “praying for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” he was also praying that “we are not drawn into conflict based on foreign leaders pushing misinformation.”

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North Carolina Supreme Court strikes down Republican-drawn U.S. House, legislative maps

Court says politically gerrymandered maps violate state constitution, orders legislators to try again

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

North CarolinaRALEIGH (CFP) – North Carolina’s Supreme Court has struck down political maps drawn by Republican legislators to maximize their political advantage over the next decade, a victory for Democrats in one of the country’s most evenly divided swing states.

In a February 4 decision, the high court, which has a 4-to-3 Democratic majority, said maps drawn for U.S. House seats and state legislative districts were gerrymandered for political reasons in violation of the state constitution.

north carolinaThe court gave legislators just two weeks, until February 18, to redraw the maps, or a lower court will take over the process. It did not delay the scheduled May 17 primary but said that election must use the new maps.

“Achieving partisan advantage incommensurate with a political party’s level of statewide voter support is neither a compelling nor a legitimate governmental interest,” said the majority ruling, penned by Associate Justice Robin Hudson, a Democrat.

The court also ordered legislators to avoid chopping up counties into multiple districts whenever possible – a direct shot at the Republican map, which divided Mecklenberg and Guilford counties into three districts each to dilute the Democratic vote in Charlotte and Greensboro.

In a sharply worded dissent, Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, accused the court’s Democratic majority of usurping the legislature’s power to decide redistricting, suggesting that amounted to “judicial despotism”

“A majority of this court … tosses judicial restraint aside, seizing the opportunity to advance its agenda,” Newby wrote.

North Carolina is one of just six states where judges are elected on a partisan basis.

Although North Carolina is closely competitive between Democrats and Republicans, the U.S. House map drawn by Republican legislators would have likely given the GOP 10 of the state’s 14 seats, compared to the current line-up of eight Republicans and five Democrats. (The state gained a new seat during reapportionment after the 2020 census.)

The legislative maps would also have cemented Republican control of both houses of the legislature over the next decade.

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper did not have the power to veto the maps, drawn by Republicans who control both houses of the legislature, forcing Democrats to go to court to try to reverse them.

The biggest beneficiary of the court’s decision may be freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, whose district in Greensboro and Winston-Salem was dismembered in the invalidated map. She had not announced her re-election plans, pending resolution of the legal challenge.

Another Democrat, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield –- a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who sat on the state Supreme Court before his election to Congress — retired after legislators made his district in rural Eastern North Carolina more competitive by reducing its population of black voters.

Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price from Chapel Hill also announced his retirement, even though his district was left largely intact.

After Republican legislators passed their map, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn announced that he would leave his current district in far Western North Carolina and run instead in a more Republican district just to the east that included suburban Charlotte. Those plans may be upended once the map is redrawn.

Another candidate who may be affected is Clay Aiken, the “American Idol” finalist who announced he would run as a Democrat for Price’s seat. Although the new map is not likely to change that district, had it stood, Aiken may have faced a primary contest against Manning, rather than a easier run for an open seat.

Cooper hailed the court’s decision in a statement, saying “a healthy democracy requires free elections and the NC Supreme Court is right to order a redraw of unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts.”

“More work remains and any legislative redraw must reflect the full intent of this decision,” he said.

But Republican State Senator Ralph Hise, chair of the Senate’s redistricting committee, called the decision a “perverse precedent” that will be “nearly impossible to unwind.”

“Democratic judges, lawyers, and activists have worked in concert to transform the Supreme Court into a policymaking body to impose their political ideas,” Hise said.

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