Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Cawthorn’s exit opens the door for crowded Republican primary

U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn sent a shockwave through the political landscape last week with his announcement that he’ll run for a second term not in his current district but in a newly drawn District 13 straddling the foothills and Piedmont.

“Ultimately, I have to answer this question: what choice would enable me to make the greatest impact on the affairs of our state and our nation, so that our children and grandchildren can inherit the best version of America we can possibly give them?” the 26-year-old incumbent said.
The after-shocks were immediate. House Speaker Tim Moore, who many regarded as the beneficiary of a new congressional district drawn with his aspirations in mind, announced he’ll stay in the Legislature. And although no new Republican candidates have officially joined the three other candidates who had launched campaigns before Cawthorn’s exit, the great mentioning machine is churning out new potential candidates by the hour.
Redrawn to extend reach north to Watauga County — including Democratic-voting Boone — the now renumbered 14th Congressional District becomes slightly bluer, although few would regard it as competitive. Two years ago, when U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows resigned to become President Trump’s chief of staff, the primary drew 10 candidates. Cawthorn won the nomination when he defeated Meadows’ hand-picked successor, Lynda Bennett, in a runoff.
Already running for the Republican nomination in District 14 are two military veterans — Navy veteran Wendy Nevarez and retired Army Col. Rod Honeycutt — and Bruce O’Connell.
In the days since Cawthorn urged himself to “Go east young man,” politics watchers have suggested a half dozen more potential candidates, including state Sens. Chuck Edwards of Flat Rock, Deanna Ballard of Watauga County and Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine; Matthew Burril, a retired financial adviser and Asheville Regional Airport Authority board member who announced a campaign before withdrawing in 2020; and Michele Woodhouse, the current chair of the GOP’s 11th Congressional District Committee, who is making an announcement at noon Thursday at Henderson County Republican Party headquarters.
“It could be an interesting thing for sure,” said George Erwin, the former Henderson County sheriff who has remained active in local politics since he left office in 2006. He supported Burril in early 2020 and earlier this year called out Cawthorn for his role in instigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
“Matthew may consider it,” he said of Burrill. “When he got out, he got out for the right reasons. He’s in the financial business and he said, ‘I’ve got to take care of the people that have paid by bills over the years.’ I know he’s clear of his business now, he sold it. Matthew would be a great candidate.”

Rod ‘Cutt’ Honeycutt

An Asheville native, Honeycutt contacted Erwin seeking advice and support.
“What really impressed me is he went into the Army as a buck private and he came out as a full-bird colonel and earned two master’s degree while he was in there,” Erwin said. “I said with what’s out there now, I’ll help you all I can — not that anybody listens to what I have to say.”
Before Cawthorn’s decision to move to District 13, Erwin advised Honeycutt “to hold him down to get in a runoff.”
“It’s an uphill battle but everybody’s beatable,” he said. “The Republican Party is fighting within itself, the Democratic Party is fighting within itself but they forget the unaffiliated voters out here. They’re the people out here that are the most pragmatic.”
Known as Cutt — “nobody’s going to call me ‘Honey’” — Honeycutt by his own description scraped through to graduation from Erwin High School, then found his focus in the military.
“We’ll continue to run our same campaign, based on experience we’ve gained in 37 years in the military,” he said in an interview. He said he wants to work for people worried about inflation and gas prices and especially wants to demand accountability for the withdrawal from Afghanistan. On that subject he has an intimate connection: He drafted the military’s drawn-down plan.
“I was in Syria when President Trump sent the tweet that we were leaving Afghanistan and I was deployed to Afghanistan to write that plan, and what you’ve seen on TV was not the plan that we wrote,” he said. “It was a plan that was desynchronized between the Department of Defense and the Department of State.”
Although some have suggested that Cawthorn has a hand-picked successor in mind, Honeycutt said he doesn’t expect the incumbent to make the same mistake Meadows made by staking his reputation on the wrong horse.
“I just read what (Cawthorn) said in the press release: After the debates he would make a choice who he’s going to endorse,” Honeycutt said. “He had no intention of getting in the middle of it at this point, which that’s the honorable thing to do.”
His campaign against Cawthorn was “based on experience level,” he said, explaining that he has one son about to join the Army and another about to complete police training. “I just wanted to have an experienced man or woman making decisions about our sons and daughters and our national resources,” he said.
No one knows if the Republican primary will attract 10 candidates, as it did in 2020, or even more. There are already eight Democrats running for the seat as well.
“I’m sure that between now and filing date we’ll continue to see a bunch more ‘what ifs’ and we’ll continue to tell our story,” Honeycutt said. “We got in it for the people of Western North Carolina to have that proven leadership and we’re going to continue to run that same race.”

Michele Woodhouse

Recently elected Henderson County Republican Party Chair Sharon Brooks, asked about candidates running, joked that “I just check the mail.”
“I’m not happy about Madison because we love Madison in Henderson County of course,” she said. “He’s got the bigger picture in mind. If he feels like it’s a strategical move for the betterment of North Carolina I support him 100 percent.”
She bought Cawthorn’s public explanation that “the western part is in good shape and moving a little bit more toward the center to do some good there, to hold back the establishment” is the best option.
Or, as Cawthorn put it in his statement last week: “I have every confidence in the world that regardless of where I run, the 14th Congressional District will send a patriotic fighter to D.C. Knowing the political realities of the 13th District, I am afraid that another establishment go-along-to-get-along Republican would prevail there. I will not let that happen.”
Of the candidates mentioned but not committed, Brooks said she had heard a soundbite from just one. “Michele Woodhouse — I did hear her on the radio the other day. She was ‘prayerfully considering it,’ I think were her exact words,” Brooks said.
Woodhouse, who lives in Laurel Park, is a former medical and pharmaceutical sales rep who owns a business called Purple Door Aesthetics. She has been active in Republican Party politics in Raleigh and in Michigan. Dallas Woodhouse, the former executive director of the state Republican Party, is her husband’s cousin.
Appearing at a protest against mask and vaccine mandates in Hendersonville last month, Woodhouse made clear she aligns with the wing of the Republican Party that supports the firebrand activism of Cawthorn and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.
“Twenty-twenty-two — we will take back the House, we will take back the Senate, we will get a veto-proof supermajority in Raleigh, we will take over the Supreme Court in North Carolina and we will send Madison Cawthorn back to Washington, D.C., and in 2024, Mark Robinson will be the next governor,” she said at a “We the People WNC” rally.

Nevarez, O’Connell

Raised in the foothills, Nevarez spent 11 years in the Navy.
“Serving in the military you earn respect through working hard, serving others, and being a part of a team with a common vision and mission,” she says on her campaign website. “As a female in the military, I had to work twice as hard for the same level of respect from my peers. It is that work ethic that I carry with me to this day.”
She and her husband Joel have four children.
The owner of the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway, O’Connell scored his 15 minutes of fame when he beat an order from the National Park Service in 2013 to shut down during a budget standoff. He describes himself as a small-government, common sense, constitutional conservative. As owner of an inn and restaurant serving the National Park Service-managed parkway, he says he has spent more than 40 years dealing with government bureaucracy and inefficiency. If elected, he is committed, he says on his website, to serve no more than three terms and to donate his congressional salary to nonprofit organizations.