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Meadows' sudden announcement creates scramble in GOP

Lynda Bennett announced Thursday that she is seeking the Republican nomination for the 11th  Congressional District. Lynda Bennett announced Thursday that she is seeking the Republican nomination for the 11th Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, who rose quickly as a conservative leader in Congress and became one of President Trump's most staunch supporters, won't run for re-election, he announced today. The announcement, which came one day before filing closes for the 2020 elections, convulsed the Republican Party in Western North Carolina and set off a scramble among people who were looking at the race or being urged to.

 

“For everything there is a season. After prayerful consideration and discussion with family, today I’m announcing that my time serving Western North Carolina in Congress will come to a close at the end of this term," Meadows said in a news release sent out at 6:40 a.m. Thursday. If he is leaving Congress, it seemed clear that Meadows is not leaving politics altogether. "My work with President Trump and his administration is only beginning," he said.

Meadows' decision rocked the Republican Party in Western North Carolina and across the state, and created some anger from candidates who have already filed for lower-ranking state offices and would have coveted the opportunity to compete for an open seat. While one candidate appeared to have the inside track at daybreak in the Republican primary on Thursday, two more had filed by sunset, including a state senator.

Candidates who have already filed for office in the 17 counties of the 11th Congressional District cannot withdraw from that race and switch to the congressional contest, said former state Sen. Tom Apodaca, who was among those fielding dozens of calls, emails and texts about the seismic development. "It's state law," he said. "It's a federal office but it's state law."

Patrick Gannon, the public information officer for the state Board of Elections, confirmed that.

"The deadline to withdraw a notice of candidate was December 17, so someone who has filed may no longer withdraw," he said. A state general statute says candidates have the right to withdraw "at any time prior to the close of business on the third business day prior to" the filing deadline, so the deadline for withdrawing came when elections offices closed on Tuesday evening.

Among the names area Republicans were mentioning on Thursday as candidates who might have been interested had they known the seat would be open were state Sen. Chuck Edwards, former state Rep. Tim Moffitt, who has filed for state House District 117, and state Sen. Ralph Hise, of Mitchell County. Among the Republicans who would be eligible were Sen. Jim Davis of Franklin and Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville.

"Thanks, but I have no interest in running," McGrady said in a Tweet responding to a suggestion that he could run.

"I've been surprising by the range of people saying I need to jump into this thing," McGrady said in an interview. "I'm a no or a hell no."

One candidate either moved with lightning speed to organize a campaign or had advanced knowledge of the opening.

Lynda Bennett, a real estate agent from Maggie Valley, announced at 8:23 a.m. Thursday she was running for the seat and already had launched a campaign website, Facebook page, campaign email and Twitter account. Less than an hour later, the Asheville Tea Party announced that it was endorsing Bennett.

Within hours, two more Republicans had filed, including a more experienced candidate, state Sen. Jim Davis of Franklin. Davis was able to file for the seat because, like McGrady, he had already announced his retirement from the Legislature. Also filing Thursday was Charles "Chuck" Archerd, an Asheville developer and strong supporter of Meadows.

Lack of transparency

 

McGrady said he had no direct knowledge of Meadows' plans.

"It sounds like he's signaling that he's going to join the administration in some capacity," he said. "I just wish he didn't do it the way did. Obviously, he had his candidate and that's the way it worked. I wish there had been a little more transparency. I'm not pushing anybody but it would have been nice to have a little more transparency. I've had a number of local officials say they wish it had been done in a more transparent way."

"It certainly is incredible that this was announced and within two hours there was a full endorsement by the Tea Party," said Jeff Miller, the Republican nominee for the seat in 2010, who was fielding calls on Thursday morning from Republican moderates urging him to jump into the race. "It certainly seems like somebody knew something and it's a shame it wasn't done right where people have a chance at running a good solid campaign. If this is as it appears, it's just wrong."

"I think it's very disappointing," Apodaca said, "that (Meadows) would announce this late when a lot of people would be interested."

Bennett styled herself as the heir to Meadows.

"Lynda Bennett strongly supports President Trump," the candidate's campaign announcement said. "She has always been a supporter of Congressman Mark Meadows. Moreover, Lynda will seek inclusion in the House Freedom Caucus to support open, accountable, and limited government. She understands the Constitution, the rule of law, and common sense policies promote liberty, safety, and prosperity for all Americans. ... As a conservative woman her voice will be in stark contrast to the left’s socialist agenda as she stands for the right to life, second amendment, religious freedom, and support for law enforcement and veterans."

 
Active in the Republican Party, Bennett serves as vice chair of the Haywood County Republican Party and was recognized in 2019 for the Golden Elephant award for volunteerism.
 
She and her husband, Pat Bennett, owned and operated a full service real estate company and vacation rental management company in Haywood County. She has a background in Henderson County in the 1980s. After graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Conservation in 1979, Bennett managed an apple and cherry orchard in Washington state, and later worked as an instructor for Mother Earth News in Hendersonville and at the small restaurant in the Eco-Village in Transylvania County. 

 

The Asheville Tea PAC called Bennett the right choice to take the baton from Meadows, a conservative crusader the Tea Party reveres.

"Congressman Mark Meadows has been a national leader who has tirelessly stood up to the corruption of the Deep State. We need a bulwark to follow that lead," the Tea Party said. "Lynda Bennett is that choice."

 

In addition to her work with the Haywood County Republican Party and on the District and State Executive Committees, Bennet has been active with the Tea Party Patriots and as a Sentinel with Heritage Action for America, the activism arm of the Heritage Foundation, and with Freedom Works. She also has taught youth Sunday school and volunteered as a local Girl Scout troop leader. She and her husband are active members of the Calvary Road Baptist Church in Haywood County. She also served as president of the Haywood County multi-listing service, a real estate group. She currently serves on the Haywood County Board of Equalization and Review.

Meadows said in his statement:

"This was a decision I struggled with greatly," he said. "These last 8 years, I have been so blessed to serve the people of NC-11 and help give a voice to millions of Americans who feel Washington, DC has forgotten them. Since serving alongside President Trump, I have been a witness to historic economic prosperity, unemployment levels I only dreamed of when I took office, tax and regulatory reforms that are putting the American worker first, our Israeli embassy moved to Jerusalem, and trade deals that were once thought impossible. I have seen our law enforcement and first responders receive the support they deserve and our military once again put on a path to maintain its superiority. Through it all, I am so thankful to have been able to serve and give back to the great country I call home."

"My work with President Trump and his administration is only beginning. This President has accomplished incredible results for the country in just 3 years, and I’m fully committed to staying in the fight with him and his team to build on those successes and deliver on his promises for the years to come. I’ve always said Congress is a temporary job, but the fight to return Washington, DC to its rightful owner, We The People, has only just begun.

"To the people of Western North Carolina: it’s been my honor to be your Congressman. Thank you for your trust, faith, and support. God bless you.”

A sandwich shop owner who became a real estate developer in Jackson County after moving from Tampa, Meadows, 60, was a political novice when he vanquished a field of seven other candidates running for the Republican nomination for the 11th Congressional District in 2012, which the state Legislature had redrawn the year before into a deep red safe seat. A year ago, Meadows' name was among those floated as a potential chief of staff for President Trump. Around that same time, it came to light that his official biographical sketch on a U.S. House website listed his education as "B.A., University of South Florida, Tampa." Instead, he had earned a two-year degree. Meadows' staffers said the university degree information had not come from him.