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Cawthorn wins runoff in landslide

Madison Cawthorn speaks at a campaign event last winter. Madison Cawthorn speaks at a campaign event last winter.

Madison Cawthorn won a runoff election for the Republican nomination for the 11th Congressional District seat on Tuesday night, vanquishing Lynda Bennett by a wide margin despite President Trump's endorsement.

A Hendersonville native who had a U.S. Naval Academy appointment before he was critically injured in a car crash, Cawthorn, 24, had won 69 percent of the vote with 87 percent of precincts in the 17-county mountain district reporting. He led in his home county by a whopping 50-point margin, 75.1 to 24.9 percent, with all 35 precincts reporting and beat Bennett in her home county of Haywood, 58 to 42 percent.

“Tonight, the voters of the 11th district of North Carolina said they’re ready for a new generation of leadership in Washington," Cawthorn said in a statement. "You turned our message of hope, opportunity and freedom into a movement. While the far left is lighting our cities on fire, we are lifting the light of liberty. Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden may not be able to control where the Democrats are going but, together, we can."

With 100 percent of the vote counted, Cawthorn won 16 of 17 counties; all but Rutherford, the only partial county in the district, which was redrawn last year after Democrats won a lawsuit over gerrymandering. He won 30,444 votes, 68.82 percent, to 15,806 for Bennett, or 34.18 percent.

Although they never met in a face-to-face debate, Cawthorn and Bennett had battled furiously through 30-second TV and radio spots in the closing days over which candidate was the more loyal supporter of President Trump. Cawthorn aired an audio tape of Bennett calling herself a "never Trumper" in September 2016 and Bennett depicted Cawthorn as hesitant to support Trump because of the president's "extremism."

Bennett won the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows and, more importantly, Trump, who hired Meadows as his chief of staff last December. But from the start of the 12-way Republican primary, she was dogged by accusations that she and Meadows had orchestrated a backroom deal to give her the inside track to the nomination. Cawthorn, meanwhile, touted the endorsements from more than 40 county commissioners, sheriffs and school board members in the southwestern North Carolina district that runs from McDowell County to the Tennessee line.

“Ours is not just a ‘grassroots’ campaign,” Cawthorn said. “Together, we are creating the deep roots of a solid oak tree which Abraham Lincoln compared to pillars of freedom."

He pivoted back to Trump and, anticipating an interpretation that 11th District voters had repudiated the president, declared his unequivocal support.

"Finally, I want to make something clear. I support our great president," he said. "I do not believe this election has been a referendum on the president’s influence. The people of western North Carolina are wise and discerning. You observed both candidates and simply made the choice you believed is best for our district. I look forward to fighting alongside our president after I’m elected in November."

North Carolina Republican Party chairman Michael Whatley congratulated Cawthorn on the win.

"Mr. Cawthorn ran a fantastic campaign during the primary and the runoff, and we are completely confident that next January, he will be sworn in to represent the 11th District in the House of Representatives," he said. "He will be a great fighter for Smoky Mountain families and always put America first."

 

Cawthorn, who watched election results with supporters at Point Lookout Vineyards in Edneyville, is an eighth generation native who traces his roots back 200 years to the Revolutionary War. He was homeschooled in Hendersonville and nominated to the U.S. Naval Academy by U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows in 2014. His plans were derailed that year after he nearly died in a horrific automobile accident that burned much of his body and left him partially paralyzed in a wheelchair.

Cawthorn says on the stump that the near-death experience strengthened his faith, made him a fighter, helped him appreciate every day, and inspired him to help everyone he encounters overcome whatever adversity they face in their daily lives.

Declaring himself a constitutional conservative, Madison ran on defending the values of faith, family and freedom.  Madison attends Biltmore Church in Hendersonville. He enjoys hunting, cooking, travel, fitness, photography and videography and studying history. He is engaged to be married to Cristina Bayardelle.