Out of the fractious field of Republican candidates aiming to replace former Rep. Mark Meadows in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, a clear winner has finally emerged. Henderson County real estate investor Madison Cawthorn took nearly 66% of the vote in a June 23 second primary against Madison County real estate agent Lynda Bennett, thereby securing the nomination to run in November’s general election.
Cawthorn, whom only about 20% of voters chose in the 12-way Republican primary on March 3, garnered a record-breaking turnout for an NC-11 runoff election. His 30,444 votes in the second primary exceeded the total ballots cast in the 2012 runoff between Meadows and Vance Patterson by over 7,400. Cawthorn also took majorities of votes in all of the district’s counties except Rutherford.
In response to a June 23 Xpress request for comment on Cawthorn’s victory, spokesperson Angela Nicholas said his campaign team would try to respond but that the candidate “has a bunch of appointments with national news already.” No further responses were provided by press time.
The race has attracted widespread attention due both to Cawthorn’s age — at 25 upon swearing in, he would be the House’s youngest member — and high-profile endorsements on Bennett’s behalf by Meadows and President Donald Trump. But Cawthorn downplayed voters’ apparent rejection of the establishment candidate in a press release issued after the results came in.
“I support our great president. I do not believe this election has been a referendum on the president’s influence,” Cawthorn said. “The people of Western North Carolina are wise and discerning. You observed both candidates and simply made the choice you believed is best for our district.”
Instead, the presumptive nominee turned his focus toward bringing “a new generation of leadership in Washington” and countering what he considers disorder within his rival party. “While the far left is lighting our cities on fire, we are lifting the light of liberty. [California Rep.] Nancy Pelosi and [former Vice President] Joe Biden may not be able to control where the Democrats are going but, together, we can,” he remarked.
Bennett, who did not provide answers for the Xpress voter guide and has generally avoided talking with local media, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the election. An Xpress call to a cellphone number listed for Bennett through her real estate company was answered by an unidentified speaker, who said that the number was not affiliated with her campaign.
Cawthorn will face Democrat Moe Davis, a retired Air Force colonel and former Guantanamo Bay prosecutor, in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 3. In a June 24 post on the Old North State Politics blog, Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper said District 11’s demographics favored Cawthorn over Davis but that the election’s outcome was far from certain.
“Despite recent redistricting that brought the bright blue dot of Asheville back in the district, ~57% of the 11th Congressional District voted for Trump in the last election,” noted Cooper. But, he continued, “as Madison Cawthorn just demonstrated, sometimes candidate characteristics and the specifics of the race can make the difference and swing an election.”