From AVL Watchdog: Debate fact-checker: zingers, jabs and lies

Madison Cawthorn and Moe Davis
Madison Cawthorn and Moe Davis exchanged accusations, some of them false, at a pair of debates this month. Photo courtesy of AVL Watchdog

By Sally Kestin and Peter H. Lewis, AVL Watchdog

In their first public face-off, the candidates vying for the increasingly competitive North Carolina 11th District congressional seat, Republican Madison Cawthorn and Democrat Moe Davis, touted their differences on just about all issues and hurled accusations, with each calling the other “fast and loose” with the facts. Who was telling the truth? AVL Watchdog fact-checked some of the claims made at the Sept. 4-5 debates at Western Carolina University and rated them as true, false or misleading.

TOPIC: Welfare

THE CLAIM: In the first debate (at 1:17:08), Davis accused Cawthorn of wanting “to end welfare to balance the budget because it encourages single women, particularly minority women to have more babies so they get bigger checks.”

FACT-CHECK: We find this claim to be TRUE.

At a May 21 meeting at the Cherokee County Republican Party, Cawthorn said he had recently talked to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., about “how important it is to wean the American people off of entitlements.”

“I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to start just cutting 1% or maybe 2% or 3% of entitlements that we’re sending out to people for these welfare states just down so we can slowly wean people off of entitlements,” Cawthorn said. “That way, we can get our country closer to a balanced budget to where we can start running in the black.”

And in a July 20 discussion with the right-wing provocateur talk show host Charlie Kirk, Cawthorn said (at 44:40) that “one of the greatest problems we have in our country is fatherless homes, especially in minority communities.”

“We subsidize fatherlessness because there are so many financial benefits to these young women to not get married and have more children because then they can get more subsidies for those children,” Cawthorn told Kirk. “You have a woman who has seven kids from three different fathers, but none of those dads are around.”

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: “Madison Cawthorn firmly believes that the best possible social program is a job,” the campaign told AVL Watchdog.


TOPIC: Green New Deal

BACKGROUND: The Green New Deal is a congressional resolution that outlines a national plan for combating climate change while also proposing dozens of programs to address economic inequality and promote social and racial justice. It calls for the United States to wean itself from fossil fuels and achieve 100% power from clean, renewable sources by 2030. The Green New Deal resolution is nonbinding, and nothing in it would become law even if Congress approves it.

THE CLAIM: In the second debate (at 49:30), Davis said: “My opponent keeps bringing up the Green New Deal and things that I’ve said in settings. And I’ve said I do like the Green New Deal, but I’ve also refused to commit to endorse it, to supporting it …”

Cawthorn then held up a piece of paper that, he said, showed Davis’s website on April 27, including the statement, “That’s why I support the Green New Deal.” The statement was later deleted from Davis’s website.

FACT CHECK: We find Davis’s claim that he has refused to support the Green New Deal to be FALSE. On his Moe Davis for Congress Facebook page, Davis wrote on Dec. 18, 2019: “It is our moral obligation to preserve and protect our land, air and water for our children and future generations. Climate change is real and we can’t afford to wait until we reach a tipping point to act. We are already running out of time. That’s why I support the Green New Deal. A focus on green energy and green technology will create jobs and protect our precious Western North Carolina environment.”

CANDIDATE RESPONDS: “Yes, Col. Davis supports the Green New Deal. He has said that repeatedly. But here’s the nuance. There are something like 48 different components to the Green New Deal. Col. Davis hasn’t signed off on all 48,” the campaign said in a statement. “Yes, he broadly supports the goals of the Green New Deal. But he’s not going to commit to signing off on legislation until he sees the actual bills.”

As for the deleted statement Cawthorn referenced, Davis’s campaign said, “[We] were revising our website recently and inserting new photos after Col. Davis shaved off his beard; we updated the content to better reflect his viewpoint.”


TOPIC: COVID-19 — Real or a Hoax?

THE CLAIM: In the first debate (at 34:00), Cawthorn was asked if he took the public health threat from the coronavirus pandemic seriously. “My fiancé works in health care,” he said. “I know from talking to her because she’s actually been with the patients who are suffering from COVID-19 that it’s no hoax… I encourage every single one of my followers and people in the country that if you need to wear a mask, if you are in that area of your life where you may have a pre-existing condition or you’re at an age where COVID-19 will greatly affect you, I encourage you, please practice social distancing, please wear a mask and if I’m around you, I will wear a mask myself.”

FACT CHECK: We find this claim to be MISLEADING.

Cawthorn has appeared at numerous campaign events throughout the pandemic without a mask, often with seniors in attendance. In photos, few, if any, of his supporters are wearing masks, and Cawthorn is pictured shaking hands.

Madison Cawthorn with Dan Forest
Madison Cawthorn campaigns maskless with Dan Forest, Republican for governor, in July. Photo by Brittany Whitehead, Hendersonville Times-News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone wear a mask in public and stay at least six feet away from others. Cawthorn’s statements make clear he views wearing masks to be a personal choice, not a public policy issue, and suggests that social distancing and mask-wearing precautions are mainly for the old and sick.

At the May 21 Cherokee Republican event (at 6:30), Cawthorn answered a question about absentee ballots and said, “I don’t really think that COVID-19 is that dangerous of a virus.”

And in an interview airing on WKRK radio in Murphy, shortly after North Carolina moved into Phase 2 of the reopening, Cawthorn expressed frustration at the government’s pace.

“It’s far past time that we allow people to start going out and just enjoy our economy as a whole,” he said (at 14:40). “If we drop the government mandates, we could all go back to living a roaring economy again tomorrow.”

Cawthorn continued (at 17:30) that his friends who owned businesses had no objection to closing when “they were estimating on the low end was that 2 million Americans were going to be dead from this virus by this summer.” But when “a very, very few of us actually knew someone who had gotten a symptomatic version of COVID-19, and none of us started seeing, you know, dead bodies lying in the streets, we said, ‘I think this was overblown.’” Cawthorn blamed “the mainstream media” for sensationalizing the virus “and because of that, we just destroyed our economy for no reason.”

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: A Cawthorn spokesman said the candidate “believes that Covid-19 is no hoax and that all residents of NC-11 ought to take the precautions that they believe are necessary in order to remain healthy.”


TOPIC: Assault Weapons

BACKGROUND: In 1994 Congress passed a 10-year Federal Assault Weapons Ban on the manufacture, transfer, or possession of certain military-style civilian semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The ban expired Sept. 13, 2004. Periodic efforts in Congress to renew the ban have been unsuccessful.

THE CLAIM: In the first debate (at 44:30), Cawthorn said: “My opponent at a fundraiser with his liberal friends said that he wants to ban all assault rifles, but he can’t actually say that out loud because then what would happen is the red voters wouldn’t vote for him.”

FACT-CHECK: Cawthorn’s statement is a distortion. We find the first part of Cawthorn’s accusation — that Davis wants to ban all assault weapons — to be FALSE. As for Cawthorn’s assertion that Davis says things in private that he won’t say in public, we find that to be TRUE, but we also note that in our long experience most politicians do the same.

Davis, a gun-owner, says he supports “the Constitutional right to own pistols, rifles and shotguns,” but says he supports “more stringent requirements to purchase military-style assault weapons,” including requiring purchasers to apply for a permit, pay a fee, and undergo a background investigation that includes mandatory mental health records checks and reporting of any arrests involving an act of violence. Applicants would also have to complete a full-day gun safety course. Davis consistently argues for restrictions on sales of those weapons, which, he argues, is not the same as supporting a ban. We found no record of Davis calling for a ban on high-capacity semiautomatic rifles.

However, in The Smoky Mountain News, Davis was paraphrased saying in January that in a perfect world, only military personnel have assault weapons. And, according to a report in The Blue Banner, a student news publication at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, Davis attended a small fundraising gathering in Asheville in February. “Davis said he does not disagree with banning assault rifles, but he does believe he would lose the election if he made that opinion public,” the reporter wrote. The story quoted Davis as saying: “We just can’t cram it down their throats or we’re not going to win.” In the first debate, Davis said, “Look, I agree I would like to have no assault weapons on the street, but I put my policy out there and voters can look at it, and if I don’t keep my word, then fire me in 22 months.”

CANDIDATE RESPONDS: Cawthorn’s campaign said the accusation was supported by the combination of Davis’s statements, but it did not provide evidence that Davis has advocated banning high-capacity semiautomatic rifles.


TOPIC: Cawthorn’s Money

THE CLAIM: In both debates, Davis repeatedly called Cawthorn a multi-millionaire and on the second night (at 57:38) questioned his  qualifications for Congress as “a 25-year-old with a $30 million settlement.”

FACT-CHECK: Cawthorn is 25, but the statement about a $30 million settlement is FALSE.

Cawthorn filed three lawsuits in Florida over his 2014 automobile accident that left him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Cawthorn was a passenger in a SUV driven by his friend, who dozed at the wheel, ran off a highway and hit a concrete barrier wall. He told Charlie Kirk they were going about 70 mph in a construction zone.

Cawthorn settled with an insurance company for $3 million and then filed another $30 million suit against the insurer, claiming it acted in bad faith. The court ruled in favor of the insurance company.

Cawthorn won a separate $3 million settlement against the construction company working on the highway, according to testimony from his 2017 deposition. Cawthorn received a total of $6 million in settlements, he testified. One lawsuit is still pending. He has said he incurred about $3 million in medical debt.

CANDIDATE RESPONSE: A spokesman for Davis acknowledged that the candidate erred in saying Cawthorn had received $30 million.

AVL Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Peter H. Lewis is a former senior writer and editor at The New York Times. Contact us at


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Asheville Watchdog
Follow me @avlwatchdog

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “From AVL Watchdog: Debate fact-checker: zingers, jabs and lies

  1. Bradd

    Thank you AVL Watchdog (Sally Kestin and Peter H. Lewis) for doing the fact checking article on Madison Cawthorn vs. Moe Davis debates (9/4-9/5).
    I especially found Madison Cawthorn’s response about wearing masks during COVID-19 to be just as ‘believable’ (NOT!) as something Trump would say.
    Your accompanying photo in the article showing him talking to seniors without a mask proves the point, that he says one thing and does another. In a broader
    When did it really become o.k. in this country to bold face lie to people? In the case of politicians (and yes, it doesn’t matter what party a candidate is affiliated
    with), I am not talking about ‘slightly stretching the truth’ or ’embellishing’ something here. I’m talking about when someone (ESPECIALLY, an elected official
    or someone running for office) stands there…. doesn’t blink……. and lies to you. Why has that become o.k. in the United States of America? And of course,
    the next question would be…..Do the followers of such a ‘ leader ‘ actually believe the crap he peddles (with help from Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets) ? Or is
    it that they just don’t care to hear the truth anymore? They have the party horse blinders on.
    So, I guess I will answer my own first question from the previous paragraph with…… It REALLY became o.k. to lie to the citizens of this country when Donald Trump
    became a candidate for the U.S. Presidency some 4-5 years ago. Because , he has taken….Lying….and turned it into an art form. Doing so, on almost a
    daily basis.
    The worst lie he has perpetrated on us, is that we shouldn’t worry about the coronavirus…it’s going to ” miraculously go away by April”. He has shunned
    wearing masks and made it political to do so, while the rest of the planet has done differently (Let’s all look at that photo again of Trump supporter Madison
    Cawthorn talking to seniors without a mask). Reports have come out from Columbia University that over 50,000 lives could have been saved if the U.S.
    government had acted two weeks sooner in response to COVID-19.
    I guess another thing Madison Cawthorn might have in common with Donald Trump is a total lack of experience for the job description. Trump has been
    woefully inept, all the while losing or firing anyone in his cabinet who doesn’t agree with him…..and most of them way more intelligent than he is. But as Trump
    as indicated….he’s smarter than the military generals. Hmm…with a background as a shady real estate wheeler and dealer (aka con man) and being
    a reality tv star….that should make you smarter than the generals and too, medical experts and scientists !
    Not that Madison shares those types of bad ‘attributes’ of Trump….it’s just that he, at the age of 25 years old, also has no experience for the job whatsoever.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.