GOP rejects Trump pick for Meadows seat in North Carolina

Motivational speaker Madison Cawthorn beats party activist Linda Bennett

Former Rep. Mark Meadows, left, and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan endorsed Linda Bennett in the North Carolina Republican primary runoff for the seat Meadows held before he became White House chief of staff. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Rep. Mark Meadows, left, and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan endorsed Linda Bennett in the North Carolina Republican primary runoff for the seat Meadows held before he became White House chief of staff. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 23, 2020 at 8:55pm

Rejecting the candidate endorsed by President Donald Trump for a seat previously held by his current chief of staff, Republican voters in North Carolina’s 11th District nominated 24-year-old motivational speaker Madison Cawthorn in a primary runoff Tuesday.

Cawthorn, 24, a real estate investor who survived a near-fatal car crash and now uses a wheelchair, beat party activist Lynda Bennett by campaigning as an outsider and utilizing social media to reach voters. He will face Democrat Moe Davis in November.

Cawthorn was leading with 65 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race with 56 percent of precincts reporting.

Bennett, 62, a GOP activist and real estate agent, had former Rep. Mark Meadows’ endorsement and support from such groups as the tea party-aligned House Freedom Action, but she kept a lower profile and refused a debate. 

In the March 3 primary, Bennett was the top vote-getter, and the only woman, in a 12-candidate field, finishing ahead of Cawthorn 23 percent to 20 percent. A candidate in North Carolina needs to exceed 30 percent in a primary to avoid a runoff.

Bennett received high-profile endorsements from Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, but held smaller events with constituents during the campaign, said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.

Through June 3, her campaign had raised about $447,000, including $80,000 of her own money, while Cawthorn raised $563,000, including $361,000 from a personal loan.

Outside groups were also active. House Freedom Fund, the political arm of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus that Meadows once led, and House Freedom Action spent more than $1 million to support Bennett, while Fix Congress Now! spent $160,000 against her.

Protect Freedom PAC spent $530,000 on behalf of Cawthorn, while House Freedom Action spent $309,000 against him.

Last year, court-ordered redistricting led to more of the liberal-leaning Asheville being added to the 11th District. But Republicans remain favored to hold the seat — Trump would have carried it by 17 points, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.

Democratic nominee Davis, a retired Air Force colonel and former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, won a five-way primary in March. He had about $58,000 in his campaign account on March 31 after raising $156,000.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election Solid Republican.

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