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Rep. Madison Cawthorn concedes GOP primary to Edwards

Election 2022 North Carolina Cawthorn
Chris Seward
/
AP
FILE - Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., speaks before former President Donald Trump takes the stage at a rally on April 9, 2022, in Selma, N.C. A series of unforced political and personal errors by Cawthorn has brought the forces of big-name Republicans and traditional enemies to bear on his reelection bid in North Carolina.

Updated at 10:50 p.m.

First-term U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn has conceded to North Carolina state Sen. Chuck Edwards in the Republican congressional primary.

Luke Ball, a spokesperson for Cawthorn’s campaign, told The Associated Press late Tuesday that Cawthorn had conceded the race. A fast-food franchise owner, Edwards now advances to the November election against Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara.

Cawthorn vaulted to national prominence after winning the seat in 2020 at age 25. A firebrand and vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, he had made unforced political and personal errors that led top Republican leaders in North Carolina to turn against him. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said Cawthorn was an embarrassment to his constituents.

WUNC_TrumpRally_29647.jpg
Kate Medley
/
For WUNC
File photo of Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaking at a Donald Trump rally on Saturday, April 9, 2022 in Selma, North Carolina.

Cawthorn faced negative publicity for speeding and gun violations, as well as for calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug.” And his initial decision to run for reelection elsewhere — only to switch back to the 11th District — didn’t sit well with many locals.

Six other GOP candidates were in the race, which became a test of whether voters would grant Cawthorn another term despite his personal and political stumbles.

Edwards, an owner of McDonald's franchises, received endorsements from U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and the state's top GOP legislative leaders. A super PAC allied with Tillis ran ads against Cawthorn, one of which called him a “reckless embarrassment” and ”dishonest disaster.”

Within days of taking office in early 2021, Cawthorn spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally questioning Joe Biden's presidential election victory that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Cawthorn soon became a leading spokesperson for Trump's “America First” policies and conservatives in the culture wars. Trump has endorsed him.

Besides the remark about being invited to an orgy, Cawthorn said he had seen leaders in the movement to end drug addiction use cocaine. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy reprimanded him publicly for the remarks.

Cawthorn has been stopped by police on driving citations three times since October and caught with guns at airport checkpoints twice since last year, including last month. And videos released in the campaign's final weeks showed Cawthorn in sexually suggestive poses, which he said were from several years ago — meant to be funny and nothing else.

Cawthorn acknowledged speeding and gun citations as failings, but said the videos were part of a “drip campaign” by his political enemies, of which he has included some Republicans, to flood the district with negative stories.

Cawthorn was seen as a rising star by many conservatives when in 2020 he won a primary runoff for the seat being vacated by Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff.

Cawthorn, who uses a wheelchair after being partially paralyzed from a car accident as a teenager, turned 25 — the constitutionally mandated minimum age to serve in the House — during the 2020 campaign.

In an election-eve post on his social media site Truth Social, Trump asked primary voters to back him again: “Recently, he made some foolish mistakes, which I don't believe he'll make again ... let's give Madison a second chance!”

His biggest political mistake may have occurred last fall, when he decided to run for a different U.S. House seat that could have led to an easier reelection bid, only to return to the 11th District when redistricting litigation shifted the lines again. Edwards and others accuse Cawthorn of trying to walk away from his constituents for political convenience.

WUNC's Elizabeth Baier contributed to this report.

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