One of the more colorful primaries this year is the race for the North Carolina 11th, where controversial freshman Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn is seeking re-nomination to his mostly-safe Congressional district.
Cawthorn has been recently in the news for his allegations he has been invited to cocaine-fueled orgies since arriving in D.C., and that those sorts of events are commonplace in Washington and within Congress. There’s a legal way with PredictIt to bet whether these explosive comments are going to cost him.
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Will Madison Cawthorn win re-election?
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Cawthorn is one of a handful of ultra-conservative Trump loyalist Congressmen who won in 2020, joining the ranks of (amongst others) Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene in the new conservative ascendency in the GOP.
He has made a series of incendiary remarks about the 2020 election, Joe Biden, and Democrats generally, but those comments have been mostly ignored by those in Republican circles. Comments recently about DC itself, however, have sparked a firestorm for the freshman.
For reasons passing understanding, Cawthorn telling a crowd of Republicans to get ready for “bloodshed” over election results by stockpiling ammo received the kid-glove treatment by House Republicans, but going on a podcast and making DC seem interesting is a grave sin.
Cawthorn is a hate figure for Democrats in the same way that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is for Republicans, but Cawthorn will be in DC as long as Republicans choose to keep him there – which makes the race for the GOP nomination in the 11th so important. And the thing is, he’s not in great shape.
We don’t have his fundraising numbers for Q1 2022, but despite being one of the Republicans with the best name recognition in Congress, his fundraising numbers aren’t the strength you’d think they’d be.
Yes, Cawthorn did manage to raise a very impressive $2.8M in the last quarter of 2021, but he also blew through 2.6M, and is only sitting on $282k Cash on Hand, with 171k in debts. Despite getting into the race late, Chuck Edwards, his main opponent, has $330k Cash on Hand, and now has the endorsement of the entire North Carolina GOP.
Edwards is a State Senator from the area, and would be a reliably conservative vote in Congress if he beats Cawthorn, in addition to his election being a massive reduction in the amount of hot air emitted from the member for the North Carolina 11th.
He has the support of the NCGOP, and DC Republicans seem eager for him to win, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy claiming that Cawthorn admitted to lying about the coke and orgies stories. That said, people in Cawthorn’s orbit of Trumpian characters have denied it, claiming that Cawthorn said no such thing.
Edwards is himself eminently conservative, as the entire North Carolina GOP are, and primarying Cawthorn would not be the leap back to the center that Cawthorn’s defenders claim it would be.
The thing is, if Cawthorn is able to burn through that much money, he’s in real trouble. We’ll get the Q1 fundraising reports soon, but with the scandal surrounding Cawthorn these days, there’s little reason to think that he will be able to leave this in the dust.
The best route for Edwards is to make this Primary about abilities in a presumptive GOP House Majority, as opposed to Cawthorn’s predilections for flamboyant words and absolutely no interest in governing. With the GOP overwhelmingly likely to win the House, there’s a virtue in making this primary about how they’ll get stuff done for the 11th, if Edwards can make that argument.
Cawthorn, as an incumbent, should have the edge, but there are a few problems with just blithely assuming that an incumbent will win a tough primary.
To start, 2020 saw the modern record for non-redistricting incumbents beaten in primaries, with Boebert getting into Congress with a random, unforeseen primary defeat of Scott Tipton, and Steve King being booted with the implicit support of the entire GOP.
Throw in Steve Watkins in Kansas and Ross Spano in Florida, and the not-really a primary defeat of Denver Riggleman, and 5 House Republicans lost renomination in total last cycle. Another one to start this cycle wouldn’t be nearly as surprising now as it would have been a decade ago.
For all the hype, Cawthorn should be in a much stronger position than he currently is, given his incumbency and his national name recognition. The fact he has less cash on hand than a State Senator of no particular note or notoriety is, frankly, a joke.
Cawthorn needed to put this primary away months ago – actually, he needed to do so by clearing the field, but the craziness around what maps North Carolina was going to be using scuppered any hope of that – and the fact that it’s still live is a bad, bad sign.
Polling done before the controversial comments on coke and orgies – and before the entire North Carolina Republican establishment rallied behind Edwards – had Edwards a ways behind at 20% to Cawthorn’s 52%, but polling 5 weeks out is unreliable as a guide to where primaries will go, especially when one side has the momentum.
One of the things about consequential primary challenges is that once you get one, it’s rare you keep your seat for too much longer, because the existence of a serious primary challenger is a sign of weakness – and weakness begets more weakness.
Whether it’s this May or some point soon, Madison Cawthorn will lose a primary, and the only question is whether it will be now or then. And at an underdog price, give me now. Chuck Edwards should be favored to beat Cawthorn at this point, and until he is, there’s value to be had.