RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – An unexpected decision Thursday by Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn is having a ripple effect across North Carolina politics.
In a video posted on social media, Cawthorn announced he’s running for re-election in a different district than where he lives, shocking many in his own party.
“In my heart, I represent North Carolina as a whole, not some arbitrary line that some politician drew this cycle,” said Cawthorn. “It is a tactical move to ensure North Carolina’s conservative fighting spirit is strengthened.”
For Congressional seats, candidates do not have to live in the district they’re running to represent. Cawthorn lives in Henderson County, which is part of the new 14th district.
However, he’s planning to run in the neighboring 13th district, which extends into Mecklenburg County.
Republicans in the state General Assembly recently redrew the district lines, with the 13th district being considered one of the safest seats for Republican candidates, according to an analysis by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
The district includes Cleveland County, home of state Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, who had been rumored to be considering a run for Congress. However, within a few hours of Cawthorn’s announcement, Moore said he won’t be running for Congress, after all.
Instead, Moore said he will be seeking an additional term in the state House and aiming to stay in his role as Speaker.
“While I have given it consideration, right now I am focused on the issues at hand that impact all North Carolinians,” Moore said Thursday. “I look forward to serving with my colleagues as Speaker of the House of Representatives and securing a supermajority for the Republicans next year.”
Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the John Locke Foundation, said Cawthorn’s decision not only impacts the Congressional races but will cause some members of the General Assembly to reassess their own plans, including some who thought they may move up in leadership if Speaker Moore ran for Congress instead.
“I think a lot of this in North Carolina politics has become unsettled in a way that we weren’t expecting,” said Kokai. “This is another monkey wrench to throw in the process that no one was really looking for.”
Chris Cooper, a political analyst at Western Carolina University, said Cawthorn’s decision was “a total surprise.”
Related Link: Watch Cawthorn’s video announcement
“He raised $2 million for this race. So, I was just as surprised as anybody,” said Cooper. “It’s a power play, and so far it’s a power play that’s been successful.”
Cooper said he thinks there’s “more at play” in Cawthorn’s decision beyond concerns about how favorable one district is to Republicans over another.
“With Madison Cawthorn, it’s about his brand. And, it is about what he thinks can further his brand. We’re having this conversation today. They’re having this conversation across the state and across the nation,” said Cooper. “That is likely the payoff for Madison Cawthorn. He’s being talked about. He’s being taken seriously as somebody who can run for office and by just saying he’s going to run can cause one of the most powerful politicians in the state to decide to stay in their current position and not run for Congress.”
In his announcement, Cawthorn took aim at “establishment” Republicans but did not mention anyone by name.
“Knowing the political realities of the 13th district, I’m afraid that another establishment, go-along-to-get-along Republican would prevail there,” Cawthorn said.
Cooper said Moore’s decision not to run highlighted the dynamics in the Republican Party.
“I think it says that the Madison Cawthorn/Mark Robinson wing of the Republican Party gets votes. It gets money. It gets votes. It gets attention,” Cooper said. “It’s a fight about rhetoric. It’s a fight about challenging the establishment or not challenging the establishment much more so than it’s a fight about taxes or the death penalty or abortion or these kinds of policy issues that we’re used to defining American politics.”
Cawthorn, an ally of former President Donald Trump, has been a key target of Democrats and some Republicans for his role at the rally Trump held before the insurrection on Jan. 6.
“I think he got afraid. I think he realized that his time would be numbered in this district and he chickened out,” said David Wheeler, president of American Muckrakers PAC. “Our goal from the beginning has been to fire Madison Cawthorn, regardless of what district he’s in.”
There are lawsuits pending against Republicans over the new district maps they drew amid accusations of gerrymandering. It’s unclear how quickly the cases will move through courts or if Republicans will be ordered to redraw those districts before the next election.
“Everyone who knows the history of North Carolina politics, at least over the past few decades, knows that the Congressional maps can change fairly quickly,” said Kokai.