RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Amid a series of headline-grabbing incidents involving Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, his congressional district is seeing the highest turnout so far during the first several days of early voting, according to data from the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
The early voting period began last Thursday, Apr. 28. Through May 5, nearly 22,000 voters had cast their ballots in the 11th district, that Cawthorn currently represents.
Chris Cooper, a political analyst at Western Carolina University, said more than 40 percent of Republican votes cast so far have come from unaffiliated voters. Unaffiliated voters are allowed to choose either the Democratic or Republican ballot.
Just as early voting began, Cawthorn was cited for bringing a loaded gun to the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Then this week, American Muckrakers, a Democratic super PAC seeking to defeat Cawthorn, published a nude video of him in bed with someone Cawthorn called “a friend.”
“I think some of the law-breaking has gotten through. The airport thing has gotten through. These videos? I just don’t know,” Cooper said. “The kind of unaffiliated voters who may choose strategically, those are the people who are going to be receiving these messages. So, the electoral consequences of all of this are very, very much up in the air.”
American Muckrakers also encouraged Democrats to change their voter registration to unaffiliated to vote in the Republican primary, arguing it would be more difficult to defeat Cawthorn in November if he wins the primary.
“This is breaking the traditional pattern. Democrats tend to exercise early voting more than Republicans. So, what we could be seeing with these numbers, this might disproportionately be some of the folks that are crossing over to make that strategic vote against Madison Cawthorn,” Andy Jackson, who studies elections at the conservative John Locke Foundation, said. “He has an ardent base of support, especially in Henderson County, which is just south of Asheville. But also, he’s getting a growing list of people who don’t like him as well. So, that’s generating a lot of support for some of his main opponents.”
Following the 11th district, the 1st district has seen the second-highest turnout, with approximately 21,000 votes cast already.
The 1st district is in the eastern part of the state and is currently represented by retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield.
State Sen. Don Davis and former state Sen. Erica Smith are the leading candidates in the Democratic primary. Butterfield has endorsed Davis.
On the Republican side, Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson and Sandy Smith, who unsuccessfully ran against Butterfield in 2020, are among those seeking their party’s nomination.
So far, 71 percent of people who’ve voted so far in that district have chosen the Democratic ballot.
The race to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price (4th District) has seen the third-highest turnout, mainly driven by Democrats. That district includes Durham and Chapel Hill and is considered a safe Democratic seat, meaning the winner likely will be determined in the primary.
The leading Democratic candidates are state Sen. Valerie Foushee, Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam and former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken.
Jackson said one district that has surprised him is the 13th district, that includes all of Johnston County and parts of Wake, Harnett and Wayne counties.
Based on recent voting history, it’s considered the most competitive district in the state, with Democrats holding a narrow edge. Both parties also have competitive primaries, but turnout in this district has been among the lowest in the state so far, with 11,787 ballots accepted.
“It’s kind of inexplicable for me. I was expecting it to be a really high turnout event, maybe one of the highest,” Jackson said. “You would think that both parties would be really excited about getting their folks out, but this election seems to be sliding under the radar.”
The congressional districts underwent last-minute changes following a lawsuit over how Republicans initially drew them. That led to some candidates jumping in just before the filing period closed in early March.
“This is a consequence, I think at least partially, of the 13th being a kind of last-minute, cobbled-together district. There were campaigns that were getting ready to run but they weren’t getting ready to run in this current formulation of the 13th and the organization on the ground just isn’t there,” Jackson said.