RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Following his win Tuesday over U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R) in the state’s 11th Congressional district, Republican state Sen. Chuck Edwards said voters were ready to go in a different direction.
“The people of the mountains were looking for someone to go to Washington, D.C. that had a proven conservative track record of getting things done,” Edwards said.
Edwards beat Cawthorn by 1,319 votes out of more than 88,000 cast in the Republican primary, according to unofficial results reported by the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
Amid a barrage of negative headlines about Cawthorn, including a nude video and being caught with a loaded gun at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, former President Donald Trump urged voters to give Cawthorn a “second chance” on Monday.
Edwards had the backing of many of the state’s leading Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. A super PAC aligned with him, Results for NC, spent more than $1 million attacking Cawthorn and supporting Edwards, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Cawthorn had been critical of Tillis in the past.
“Folks that I’ve actually stood on the battlefield within Raleigh and accomplished things (with) have endorsed my candidacy,” Edwards said. “And, I believe those are much more meaningful, not only to me but to the citizens of the mountains.”
He also said the large field of people running on the Republican side played a key role. Edwards and Cawthorn were among eight Republicans on the ballot Tuesday.
Chris Cooper, an expert on state politics at Western Carolina University, said even with the negative stories about Cawthorn, his loss likely hinged on one decision: when he planned to run in a different district.
Last fall, when Republicans in the General Assembly redrew the Congressional districts following the 2020 census, Cawthorn surprised many in his own party by announcing a plan to run in a new district outside Charlotte instead of the one he currently represents in the western mountains.
That decision opened the opportunity for Edwards and other candidates to get in the race.
Courts later redrew the maps, forcing Cawthorn to go back to his original district and face a larger group of opponents in his primary. Edwards criticized Cawthorn for the move, saying he’d abandoned the district.
“If I had to point to one thing, though, it would be Cawthorn’s decision to leave the district and then come back,” Cooper said. “If Cawthorn had stayed put, I don’t know that these dissatisfied voters would have had somebody else to select. And, Madison Cawthorn might still be the likely winner again of the 11th Congressional district.”
Cooper also pointed to the high number of unaffiliated voters choosing to vote in the Republican primary. During early voting, they made up about 42 percent of Republican votes cast.
Cooper noted Edwards won only three of the counties in the district: Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania. Cawthorn won in the remaining 12.
“He ran a pretty quiet campaign in some ways. He let Thom Tillis’s PAC do a bit of the nasty talking. And, he was able to ride that to victory,” Cooper said. “(Cawthorn) called Tillis a number of schoolyard names. He called Thom Tillis a complete RINO and a terrible campaigner. It’s not a real surprise that Thom Tillis didn’t like that and decided maybe he wanted to get rid of him. So, for other candidates in other places, I’d say you can rip on the other party but don’t rip on your own.”
Cawthorn conceded to Edwards Tuesday night, congratulating him and urging Republicans to back Edwards in November. Edwards will face Democratic Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara in the general election.