Madison Cawthorn fighting to hold onto House seat amid primary challenge as polls close in North Carolina

Madison Cawthorn fighting to hold onto House seat amid primary challenge as polls close in North Carolina

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Rep. Madison Cawthorn, the youngest member of Congress, is trying to fend off credible GOP challengers Tuesday who say the 26-year-old has brought too much negative attention to his North Carolina district.

Cawthorn’s congressional race has been one to watch during Tuesday’s GOP primary election in North Carolina, as well as the Senate GOP primary. 

Shortly after the polls closed, the Associated Press called the Republican race for Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C. It’s another victory for former President Trump, who endorsed Budd last summer for the open seat over former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker.

Once hailed as a rising star in the party who can counter the progressive Squad with an America First message, Cawthorn ending up facing a difficult re-election, with certain GOP congressional leaders losing faith in him following a string of questionable actions. 

Cawthorn maintained his support from former President Trump, who urged supporters in a last minute message on his Truth Social site to not give up on the young congressman: “Recently, he made some foolish mistakes, which I don’t believe he’ll make again,” Trump posted this week.  “Let’s give Madison a second chance!”

FILE - U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., speaks to the crowd before former President Donald Trump takes the stage at a rally, April 9, 2022, in Selma, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Seward, File)

FILE – U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., speaks to the crowd before former President Donald Trump takes the stage at a rally, April 9, 2022, in Selma, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Seward, File) (AP Photo/Chris Seward, File)

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Heading into the primary, Cawthorn felt optimistic.

“The support from Western North Carolina at the polls, in private meetings, and at campaign events has been overwhelming,” Cawthorn said in a statement to Fox News Digital on Tuesday. “This district is my home, and it always will be. I’m confident the people of Western North Carolina will choose me to represent them once again in Congress. I’m ready to unite the NC-11 GOP and help take back the House this November.”

His most serious challenger is Sen. Chuck Edwards, whose legislative seat falls in the House district. He also faces Michele Woodhouse, the GOP chair of the North Carolina 11th congressional district. 

Woodhouse said Cawthorn backed her to run in the 11th district as the “America First candidate” when he decided last year to run in a neighboring district that would have given him a bigger profile in the Charlotte media market. But when redistricting lines were redrawn, Cawthorn decided to run in the 11th, but by that point, Woodhouse didn’t want to exit the race.

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Woodhouse told Fox News Digital she would represent the true constitutional values of the Republican Party and bring “honor to the position … and never bring any salacious headlines to this district that are embarrassing to the voters here.”

Cawthorn rose to political stardom during his Republican National Convention speech in 2020 where he dramatically stood up out of his wheelchair. Cawthorn was partially paralyzed in a car accident at the age of 18.  He enjoys a strong social media following and talks about creating a “new Republican Party” that inspires young people.

But during his short political career, problems soon began piling up. 

He faced sexual misconduct allegations, which he denied. He was twice stopped by airport security for trying to bring a loaded gun on a plane. In March, he was cited by North Carolina troopers for driving with a revoked license. That’s on top of two previous traffic violations for speeding at 87 and 89 mph. 

In March, Cawthorn drew widespread rebuke from his colleagues, including GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, for claiming in a podcast interview he had been invited to “an orgy” in Washington, had been sexually solicited, and had seen leaders use cocaine. Cawthorn later said he wasn’t talking specifically about his fellow GOP lawmakers. “He’s lost my trust,” McCarthy said in response to the controversy.

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In April, Politico published pictures of Cawthorn partying in lingerie. Then, the Daily Mail posted photos of Cawthorn’s close aide and scheduler grabbing his crotch, along with an ethics complaint that alleged the congressman gave the staffer thousands of dollars in loans and gifts. Cawthorn’s team said the photos were taken before Congress and the aide is his cousin who helps him regularly with his disability. 

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., arrives as the House Republican Conference meets to elect a new chairman to replace Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who was ousted from the GOP leadership for her criticism of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., arrives as the House Republican Conference meets to elect a new chairman to replace Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who was ousted from the GOP leadership for her criticism of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Then earlier this month, a video of a naked Cawthorn was published making thrusting motions on top of another person in a bed.

Cawthorn explained the video was from years ago. “I was being crass with a friend, trying to be funny. We were acting foolish, and joking,” he said on Twitter, adding: “Blackmail won’t win. We will.” 

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., is actively trying to oust Cawthorn from Congress, and even accused him of insider trading. He’s backing Edwards, one of the seven Republican challengers.

“I believe that he may have gotten lost in the political stardom and forgot what his role was back here at home,” Edwards said of Cawthorn. 

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis speaks during a campaign event with Vice President Mike Pence at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Tillis has been working to oust Rep. Madison Cawthorn from Congress. (Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record via AP)

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis speaks during a campaign event with Vice President Mike Pence at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Tillis has been working to oust Rep. Madison Cawthorn from Congress. (Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record via AP) (Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record via AP)

If no candidate gets above 30% of the vote, there will be second primary run-off election on July 26 between the first and second-place finishers. 

“Despite what the beltway media says, western North Carolina loves Madison Cawthorn,” campaign spokesman Luke Ball told Fox News Digital Tuesday. “Our campaign is confident they will choose him once again to continue fighting for them in Congress.”  

Former President Donald Trump, right, announces his endorsement of N.C. Rep. Ted Budd, left, for the 2022 North Carolina U.S. Senate seat as he speaks at the North Carolina Republican Convention Saturday, June 5, 2021, in Greenville, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

Former President Donald Trump, right, announces his endorsement of N.C. Rep. Ted Budd, left, for the 2022 North Carolina U.S. Senate seat as he speaks at the North Carolina Republican Convention Saturday, June 5, 2021, in Greenville, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Seward) (AP )

In the Senate race, the victory was an impressive turnaround for Budd. For months, Budd was unable to leverage the former president’s endorsement to boost his poll numbers and fundraising figures. 

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“I think it was huge,” Budd told Fox News Digital Tuesday of Trump’s endorsement. “But it really helps especially when you work hard like we’ve done. We’ve stayed focused. We’ve worked hard. Stay humble and go out and ask people for their prayers, their support and their vote.”

Trump held a rally in North Carolina for Budd in early April, and in recent weeks the congressman surged to front-runner status in the increasingly contentious primary showdown.

Republican Senate candidate and former Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in Orlando, Florida on Feb. 24, 2022.

Republican Senate candidate and former Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in Orlando, Florida on Feb. 24, 2022. (Mark Walker Senate campaign)

Walker defied pressure from Trump to drop out of the Senate primary and instead run for a fourth term in the House with the former president’s backing. McCrory entered the race with the highest visibility, having been governor from 2013 to 2017. 

In November, Budd will face the Democratic nominee, Cheri Beasley, a former North Carolina Supreme Court chief justice. 

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In the purple state, the general election should be close as both sides will pump millions into the race that will help decide control of the 50-50 split Senate.

Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and Matt Leach contributed to this report. 

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