- 25-year-old Republican congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn is facing a tougher fight than expected in the race to replace former Rep. Mark Meadows in North Carolina’s 11th congressional district.
- A poll conducted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows Cawthorn leading his Democratic opponent Moe Davis Davis by five percentage points.
- Cawthorn, a staunch conservative and Trump supporter, has positioned himself as an important bridge between the GOP’s leadership and the next generation of Republicans.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Twenty-five-year-old Republican congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn is facing a tougher fight than expected in the race to replace former Rep. Mark Meadows in North Carolina’s 11th congressional district.
A new internal poll conducted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and exclusively shared with Insider shows Cawthorn leading his Democratic opponent, retired Air Force colonel Morris “Moe” Davis, by just five percentage points, 46% to 41%, in the district, with 6% supporting other candidates and 7% undecided.
The survey, conducted August 5-6, polled 500 likely general election voters with a combination of automated and live calls and has a margin of error of ±4.4 percentage points.
Meadows resigned from his seat earlier this year to serve as Trump’s chief of staff. Cawthorn, who turned 25 on August 1, made national headlines when he defeated realtor Lynda Bennett, Meadows’ hand-picked candidate for the seat who had also been endorsed by President Donald Trump, by over 30 points in a June 23 primary runoff.
An eighth-generation North Carolinian, Cawthorn became a motivational speaker and real estate investor after a car accident in 2014 left him paralyzed at the age of 18.
With his adept, savvy use of social media, Cawthorn has styled himself as a staunch, Trump-aligned conservative, frequently highlighting his support for the 2nd amendment, religious freedom and opposition to abortion, socialism, and the political left.
Cawthorn, who would be the youngest member of the US House if elected, has also positioned himself as an important bridge between the GOP’s leadership and the next generation of Republicans in Generation Z, making appearances on Fox News and doing interviews with prominent conservative figures including Glenn Beck and Charlie Kirk.
“I think Republicans have done such a poor job of messaging the last few decades,” Cawthorn recently told National Journal, pointing to border security and immigration as an example. “There are so many things that Republicans want that actually do good, but they say it in a way that doesn’t feel good. Democrats make you feel good about what you’re voting for, but for them it’s all virtue signaling.”
Davis, 59, is a retired Air Force colonel who had a 25-year career in the military. He worked on national security issues under both the Bush and Obama administrations, including as a Chief Prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, and more recently has been a Howard University Law Professor.
An ardent Trump critic on social media, Davis is highlighting the need to expand affordable healthcare, improve education, and invest in infrastructure in Western North Carolina in his campaign platform.
North Carolina’s 11th district is located in the Western part of the state. It has traditionally leaned Republican, with Trump carrying it by 17 points, 57% to 40% over Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Meadows winning re-election by over 20 points in 2018.
A court ordered the North Carolina legislature to redraw its entire congressional district maps in 2019, ruling that the previous map unfairly favored Republicans. In addition to creating two new likely Democratic districts, the redistricting others, like the 11th district, slightly more favorable to Democrats.
While the 11th is still solidly in the Republican column, the district’s brand-new boundaries now include all of Buncombe County, which is home to the Democratic-leaning city of Asheville and voted for Clinton by 14 points in 2016.
The DCCC poll showed Davis leading non-white voters 68% to 6% and leading voters under 40 by four points, 42% to 38%. Cawthorn leads Davis among independents by four points, 43% to 39%, among white voters by ten points, 49% to 39%, and voters over the age of 65 by eight points, 49% to 41%.
At the presidential level in the 11th district, the DCCC found Trump leading Democratic nominee Joe Biden by two points, 48% to 46%, and Trump’s approval rating above water by just one point, 50% to 49%.
The DCCC’s poll was conducted before Jezebel published a critical piece about Cawthorn. Citing public records, the website reported that he’s only invested in one property since last August and has inflated his résume as a self-made real estate investor.
Jezebel also accused Cawthorn of making overtures to white supremacy, specifically in Instagram photos Cawthorn posted from a 2017 trip to Hitler’s vacation spot, the Eagles Nest at Berchtesgaden. He wrote that seeing the historical site, “has been on my bucket list for awhile, it did not disappoint. Strange to hear so many laughs and share such a good time with my brother where only 79 years ago a supreme evil shared laughs and good times with his compatriots.”
Cawthorn vehemently denied that his caption was supporting Nazism on Twitter, reiterating that Hitler and the Nazis represented “one of the greatest evils in human history,” and writing, “The only bigots in this race are my opponents and the disgusting members of the media who would try and affiliate a disabled man, like myself, with a movement that would have had me exterminated.”
Jezebel also connected Cawthorn to white supremacy by noting that his real estate company is called SPQR Holdings, a Latin term that has been co-opted by some white supremacist groups, and pointing out that Cawthorn has sat in front of a Betsy Ross flag, which some perceive as glorifying the regime of slavery, in his TV appearances.
Cawthorn said in a statement to Asheville-based non-profit newsroom AVL Watchdog that he picked the name SPQR “as a term for Rome” and “a warning to my generation from the ages against tyranny and authoritarianism,” disavowing any attempts by right-wing extremists to “hijack” it.
Reason Magazine’s Robby Soave argued that while the Eagles Nest Instagram caption was “a truly cringeworthy comment,” Jezebel’s attempts to portray Cawthorn as a sympathizer or supportive of overt white supremacist extremism are unconvincing at best and a smear at worst.
On the subjects of race and identity, however, Cawthorn has expressed harsh opposition to affirmative action and to the idea of giving reparations to the descendants of formerly enslaved Americans, arguing they could give his hypothetical future biracial children “an entitled mindset.”
In an interview with Blue Ridge Public Radio, Cawthorn described a the Asheville city council resolution approving a reparations program as “divisive,” and said “600,000 Americans gave their life to free slaves and you’re going to tell me that’s not enough?” He also claimed that liberals “want people to be able to get into college with lower grades and lower school scores simply because they are African American.”
Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western North Carolina University, told AVL Watchdog that while registered Republicans do outnumber Democrats in the district, Cawthorn will still need to broaden his appeal beyond the conservative base.
“His base is going to vote for him anyway. But the largest group of voters in the 11th [congressional district] is unaffiliated with either political party and they could be alienated by the hard-right rhetoric,” Cooper said.