RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Some Democrats are trying an unusual strategy to try to defeat controversial Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn: they’re urging people to vote in the Republican primary.
Moe Davis, a Democrat who ran against Cawthorn in 2020 and lost, is urging Democrats to temporarily change their voter registration to unaffiliated. Under state law, that would allow them to vote in either party’s primary.
“If you remember back when Bill Clinton ran for president, they had the slogan, ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ What I’ve been trying to stress to people is, ‘It’s the math, stupid,’” said Davis.
Davis is concerned that in the Republican-leaning 11th district, which is comprised of the state’s western-most counties, Democrats would be unlikely to defeat Cawthorn in November’s general election.
He thinks their votes could have a greater impact in the primary, where turnout is likely to be lower.
“Small numbers matter more in the primary than they do in the general election. So, we have an opportunity. The main thing is to make Madison Cawthorn a one-and-done,” he said. “Some folks have a hard time wrapping their head around it. You want me to vote Republican? And it’s like, yeah, for the short-term advantage.”
Davis co-founded the American Muckrakers PAC, which runs the website FireMadison.com. Davis is not running in this year’s election. His group is backing Republican Wendy Nevaraz, a Navy veteran. She’s among seven Republicans trying to defeat Cawthorn.
“Wendy’s a Navy veteran, very sensible. I don’t agree with her on everything but I’m reasonably confident she’s not gonna lead an insurrection her first week in office,” said Davis.
Several GOP leaders, such as state House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, are backing state Sen. Chuck Edwards in the primary.
Cawthorn, who is in his first term in Congress, has gained national attention repeatedly for making outrageous comments. Most recently, he claimed to have been invited to orgies and seen people in Congress who work on combatting addiction taking a “key bump” of cocaine.
Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy met with Cawthorn as his colleagues grew increasingly frustrated with him and said Cawthorn told him the comments had been exaggerated.
“What I’ve seen is his support is eroding, particularly with this latest cocaine and orgy stuff,” said Davis.
In order to avoid a run-off after the May 17 primary, one of the candidates has to win with more than 30 percent of the vote. Davis said if a different Republican other than Nevarez ends up in a run-off with Cawthorn, he would support that candidate.
Luke Ball, a spokesperson for Cawthorn, said, “We are pleased to see that Congressman Cawthorn is such an effective threat to the left’s agenda that his candidacy is causing Democrats to flee their own party.”
Andy Jackson, the director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the conservative John Locke Foundation, has been studying voter registration switches this year.
Based on publicly available data from the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Jackson says on average there have been just more than 700 Democrats changing their party affiliation in other congressional districts through the end of March.
But, in Cawthorn’s district, more than 1,600 have done that.
“Well, it appears to be having a small effect,” said Jackson. “As of the end of March, you’re looking at 900 more than you would expect if the 11th district was behaving like the rest of the state.”
It’s not clear what percentage of those changing their affiliation are doing so as part of the effort to defeat Cawthorn. Jackson said he’s skeptical about that strategy working.
“It is unusual,” said Jackson. “It generally doesn’t succeed. The numbers here suggest it probably won’t succeed.”
In 2020, Cawthorn finished second in the Republican primary, receiving 2,125 fewer votes than Linda Bennett. That led to a run-off in June, which Cawthorn won by a two-to-one margin.
“A few thousand votes in May can do more than tens of thousands of votes in November,” said Davis. “Trump won this district by 47,000 votes. Even in an off year, it’s still going to be a herculean task to try to overcome that deficit.”
Davis’s group has is backing Katie Dean on the Democratic side.
The final day to change one’s party affiliation before the primary is April 22.