Cawthorn returns to Asheville, WNC district means ‘messy’ GOP primary

Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s U-turn this week on where he will seek re-election will lead to a “messy” GOP primary, according to a knowledgeable local political pundit.

This includes the possibility of the second primary if none of the six current candidates obtains more than 30% of the vote.

The application period ends on March 4 with the primary on May 17.

First-term Donald Trump, aligned with Cawthorn, 26, said in November he would not seek re-election in his home WNC district, instead running in an eastern district where a more Republican base and the Charlotte-area television market could boost his political ambitions.

But the court-ordered congressional maps approved on Feb. 24 changed Cawthorn’s lines and calculations. The easternmost district, now called the 10th, includes the Lincoln County home of eight-term GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry, a formidable primary opponent.

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On February 28, Cawthorn announced that he was “excited to run in the newly solidified 11th congressional district”, whose new lines include all or part of the 15 westernmost counties, including Buncombe and its county. of Henderson origin.

He and other candidates enjoy freedom of movement under constitutional rules that only require House members to live in the state where their district is located, not the district itself.

But his return in the 11th fundamentally upset the primary, which the other Republican candidates had seen as a battle between newcomers. According to the North Carolina Board of Elections, the candidates as of 4 p.m. on March 1 were:

  • Financial Advisor Matthew Burril.
  • Rep. Madison Cawthorn.
  • State Senator Chuck Edwards.
  • Retired Col. Rod Honeycutt.
  • Wendy Nevarez, Navy veteran.
  • Hotel owner Bruce O’Connell.
  • Michele Woodhouse, former 11th District GOP Chairwoman.

The primary “will be messy,” said Chris Cooper, a professor of political science at Western Carolina University, in a series of Feb. 28 tweets about the race, noting that the candidates tried to stake “lanes “politics.

Edwards, a three-term state senator from Henderson County, is running as the “establishment” candidate, Cooper said, while Nevarez, a legal aide from Asheville, is the centrist. Honeycutt insists on his foreign policy credentials, and Burril and O’Connell, the owner of the Pisgah Inn on Blue Ridge Parkway, are “the most business-friendly.”

“There aren’t many lanes left,” Cooper said.

The most interesting interactions may come between Cawthorn and Woodhouse, who is also from Henderson County and was backed by the congressman, receiving $2,000 in campaign donations from him.

But Woodhouse decided to claim the “American First” mantle, a foreign policy doctrine of former President Trump and championed by Cawthorn who, at the start of the invasion of Ukraine, said the United States should not not “go to war and that the US military ‘does not belong in the world’,” making the statements despite President Joe Biden’s vows not to send troops to Ukraine.

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Woodhouse responded to Cawthorn’s reelection decision with a one-word, “undeterred” statement, followed by a jab at Edwards and the congressman.

“Michele V Woodhouse, now the only true America First candidate in the newly drawn NC11 primary, now has Raleigh’s country club establishment politician on one side, and Instagram’s broken promises politician of Washington on the other!” It said.

Three of the other contestants also criticized Cawthorn’s return. Edwards tweeted on Feb. 28 that he would “never put the people of Charlotte above the people of WNC.”

“In Washington, DC there are already enough talkers. We need more doers,” Edwards said in an earlier tweet.

Nevarez in a March 28 tweet argued that Cawthorn had not served the district, while O’Connell said the race was “not a game” but “serious business.”

“It’s not about political fame and fortune, it’s about the needs of our district. Affordable housing, education, wages, inflation, drugs, crime, internet accessibility, etc. We need a no politician, a nonpolitical insider, and a person with business acumen and common sense in Washington. That person is me,” he said.

Responding to criticism, Cawthorn spokesman Luke Ball on March 1 pointed to part of Cawthorn’s re-election announcement the day before in which he said WNC residents “want a fighter in Congress.” .

“With their support, I look forward to returning to Washington as a second member and helping to enact major change with a historic Republican majority,” he said.

Burril, who called himself a “conservative Christian business candidate” in a Feb. 28 statement, did not criticize Cawthorn, saying his “voice and courage resonated with me in the 2020 election, as with many western North Carolina voters”.

That incumbent race two years ago saw a dozen GOP candidates face off in two primaries before Cawthorn’s victory.

Cooper, the WCU political science professor, said a candidate would need to get more than 30% more votes to avoid a second primary, according to state election rules.

“If Vegas takes lines on the NC election, I’d throw my $ on a runoff R,” he tweeted.

He also noted that the new 11th has more Republican voters but could still see a Democratic victory with strong candidates.

As of March 1, three Democrats had filed:

  • Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara.
  • Katie Dean, environmental engineer at Swannanoa.
  • Bo Hess, social worker from Asheville.

Other Democrats expected to join the race include high school principal Eric Gash and combat veteran Amy Jay Carey, both of Henderson County. Iraq War veteran Josh Remillard had changed his ranking to follow Cawthorn to the east. It is not clear that Remillard will file for the 11th.

As they first face each other in the primary, some Democrats have noted Cawthorn’s change. Gash, a black cabinet minister and former football coach, said “the decision to run was never based on whether the district was Gerrymander to my liking or not. We need someone who places voters ahead of their political aspirations.

Beach-Ferrara, also a minister and nationally known LGTBQ rights activist, called on people to rush to donate even small amounts to her “Rapid Response Fund.”

“He works to divide people and spread a form of extremism that is dangerous to our democracy,” she said. “We are organizing and building a campaign based on the values ​​of love, empathy and how we move forward together.”

Beach-Ferrara had $1.2 million through Dec. 31, according to the Federal Election Commission’s latest campaign finance documents. After expenses, he had $404,000 in cash left at the end of the year.

Cawthorn had raised $2.9 million and had $282,000 left.

Joel Burgess has lived at the WNC for over 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He has written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Do you have any advice? Contact Burgess at, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Help support this type of journalism by subscribing to the Citizen Times.

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