RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Several of the state’s top Republicans are working to defeat one of their own, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC 11th), in the May primary election. 

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) is the latest to back one of Cawthorn’s primary opponents, as the Republican leaders of the General Assembly also criticized Cawthorn’s performance since taking office last year. 

“Unfortunately, Madison Cawthorn has fallen well short of the most basic standards Western North Carolina expects from their representatives, and voters now have several well-qualified candidates to choose from who would be a significant improvement,” Tillis said Thursday.  

Tillis is endorsing state Sen. Chuck Edwards, who is one of seven Republicans seeking to defeat Cawthorn in the May 17 primary. 

Republican State House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger are also backing Edwards and headlined a fundraiser for him in Raleigh Thursday. 

“If you have clowns in office who aren’t serious about what they’re doing, you can’t get somewhere,” Moore said. “I’m just kind of without the words to describe what Congressman Cawthorn is doing and saying. I mean, some of these ridiculous recent comments that continue to build on one another.” 

Cawthorn made national headlines again this week after claiming as a member of Congress he’d been invited to orgies and witnessed people who advocate against addiction use cocaine.  

U.S. GOP House leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy met with Cawthorn Wednesday and said Cawthorn admitted the comments were exaggerated and unfounded, according to the Hill. 

“There are a number of instances where there are questions about whether or not he has the maturity necessary to be an effective representative for the people,” said Sen. Berger. “I think that in and of itself is a very difficult thing for folks to get past.” 

Earlier this month, Cawthorn called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug.”  

“And then what did you see happen? You saw the Russian state media use that. They used it for propaganda,” said Moore. “Any American who loves this country to say those kinds of things, to do things like that that are gonna give aid and comfort to the enemy is shameful. And, certainly someone like that does not deserve to be in office.” 

Last fall, Cawthorn surprised many people when he announced he would seek re-election but not in the western part of the state he currently represents. Instead, he planned to run in a new district outside Charlotte, where Speaker Moore had been eyeing a run.  

Judges ultimately threw out those districts as unconstitutional gerrymanders and redrew the districts. Cawthorn is now running in the western-most district again while Moore is seeking re-election to the state House of Representatives. 

“I’ve got a pretty a good gig. I enjoy being Speaker of the House,” Moore said. “I don’t have to worry about cocaine-fueled orgies or whatever this guy is talking about. It’s just so ridiculous. You scratch your head and wonder why.” 

Cawthorn’s office did not reply to a request for comment Thursday. Cawthorn posted a 30-second ad on Twitter Thursday that says he “cannot be stopped.” Cawthorn also has the backing of former President Donald Trump, who is holding a rally in North Carolina Apr. 9. 

Sen. Edwards declined to comment on the race at the fundraiser. Edwards is a businessman and has served in the state Senate since 2016.