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Cawthorn, Davis swap charges on character, white nationalism, military service

The Republican and Democratic nominees for the open 11th Congressional District seat swapped charges on character, military service, health care, gun control and more Friday night during a debate streamed live on Facebook.


Madison Cawthorn, a Hendersonville native, and Moe Davis, a Shelby native who moved with his wife to Asheville after he retired from the military and other service, faced off at the Biltmore Park campus of Western Carolina University in the forum  hosted by Blue Ridge Public Radio, the Smoky Mountain News and Mountain Xpress.

Conservative talk radio host Pete Kaliner brought up remarks Davis had made of Cawthorn online, including allegations of being a white supremacist and Nazi-sympathizer. (Various media outlets have reported that Cawthorn has been photographed with symbols associated with white nationalists and that he described a visit to Hitler’s summer retreat as a “bucket list” achievement.) Kaliner also noted Davis’s negative opinions on President Trump and the Rev. Franklin Graham, the evangelical leader and strong supporter of Trump. Kaliner asked how Davis could represent all the people of WNC, many of who are Republicans, with that mindset.

“My perspective is that I am running to represent this entire district, that is why I was criticized on the right for going to Black Lives Matter marches and I was criticized by the left for going to Back the Blue marche,” Davis responded. “My response was if you’re running to represent the district, you are running to represent the entire district, not just the people that like you.”

 “I’m proud of my record,” Davis said. “I spent seven years in the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) community, I’ve had a record as a judge—It’s a public record, you can go and look at it—where I have fought to be fair, to call it like I see it, whether it is employers or employees, to make sure the rules are applied fairly.”

“My commitment is to work for everyone in this district to make life better. They gave Mark Meadow’s four terms, I’m asking for 22 months to make things better in Western North Carolina.”

Cawthorn responded: “If another liberal lawyer in Washington, D.C., is what we needed to be able to solve all the major problems facing our country they would’ve been solved very long ago. Unfortunately, my opponent is a member of the DC swamp. A member of the revolving door of working in public service and trying to pull the wool over the eyes of good and honest voters.”

“I don’t believe he really wants to talk about his positions,” Cawthorn said. “When he gave his answer he didn’t really answer any part of the question from Mr. Kaliner, which was asking him, why did you call a Franklin Graham rally a Klan rally? It is very clear that my opponent is not from here. He is from Shelby, North Carolina, and he is coming here as a pseudo-carpetbagger, because in this district we revere the Graham family.”

Davis responded: “Well, I spent 25-years in uniform defending your right to say what you want and to practice your religion the way that you want. To me it is not very Christian to attack another Christian’s faith. I am not a fan of Franklin Graham. … I was a big believer in Billy Graham, I’ve got his books at home at my house and I have read them and I respect him greatly. … Franklin Graham has made himself one of the richest 1%, taking $1 million a year off the top from money people have given to do the lord’s work. That’s not the bible I grew up with. So, no, I am no fan of Franklin Graham, but I am a firm believer in religious conviction and religious faith and I defend the right of everyone to practice the way that they believe.”

Next was a question on treating people equitably and allegations that made unwanted sexual advances in high school.

Aisha Adams of the Asheville View asked Cawthorn how women, black people and LGBT and other marginalized communities know that they can trust him, given the allegations of sexual assault and white nationalism that have been leveled at him. Additionally, she asked what experiences he had creating equitable policies.

“I have been accused of sexual assault and I won’t lie to you, in high school and after, I did try to kiss a girl,” he said. “I have kissed many girls in high school and some of my attempts failed. But I believe there is a large difference in a failed attempt versus sexual assault.”

“If I have a daughter,” Cawthorn said, “I want her to grow up in a world where people will have to ask permission to touch her. I think that would have made my high school experience much less awkward if I knew that was a question that could generally be asked. But also, if I have a son, I want him to grow up in a world where he is not accused of being a sexual predator just because he wants to kiss a girl.”

“Moving on to the accusations of being a white nationalist, this is something I categorically reject. I have spoken out many times against racism in both my party and the county as a whole. You know, I am engaged to a bi-racial young woman and to accuse me of hating my fiancée and hating my future bi-racial children, I believe is an insult to most thinking people in Western North Carolina. Even CNN and the anti-defamation league said there is really no basis for this attack.”

Davis said: “I am proud to be endorsed but the National Organization for Women, by equality North Carolina, and I have got a record of having fought for equal rights for everyone. I believe that everyone in this county has the right to be treated equally. Equal opportunity doesn’t mean equal outcome, but it means you should have an equal shot at pursuing your dream.”

“My opponent had accused me of following orders from Nancy Pelosi and that this is some kind of Democratic playbook, trying to smear his name. I’ve never met, had any contact with, or anything with any of the women that have accused him of sexual misconduct. Trying to associate me with that is trying to deflect blame, which my opponent is quite good at. Being in the military, one of the two things you learn, one is that integrity matters and number two is accepting responsibility.”

Davis’s military service, Cawthorn’s statements on Naval Academy nomination

Commenting on Davis’s military career, Cawthorn said: “If you’d like to tout your military experience, I would like to read a quote from someone who supervised you. Col. Kelly Wheaton told Davis that he was denied the medal that he was requesting because his service has not been honorable.” Cawthorn then read a quote from Wheaton, “I wrote in my recommendation for disapproval that you quit your position when needed because you did not want to be supervised by a superior officer with whom you had a difference of opinion.”

Cawthorn also said that Davis “was fired from the Congressional Research Service because he broke their rules which were very clearly outlined. And then, when he was fired, he was sued by the Congressional Research Service. So, I believe that my opponent has put himself above service very often.”

Davis responded: “Mr. Cawthorn, there were folks standing down on the corner, had Stolen Valor signs they were holding out by the side of the road.” He continued, “The midshipmen honor concept said, ‘Midshipmen are persons of integrity. They tell the truth and ensure the truth is known.’ I guess it is a good thing you didn’t go to the Naval Academy, because you seem to play fast and loose with the truth. The truth is, my car is parked out back, you’ll see it has got a Legion of Merit tag on the back. I earned that at the end of my career after serving as chief prosecutor at Guantanamo bay. Yes, there was one person, that you read from, who didn’t think highly of my service. But the Judge Advocate General, the three star general, presented me with the Legion of Merit when I retired and I am pretty proud of that. The Congressional Research Service, did not sue me. I sued them and won because they violated my First Amendment right to free speech.”

Davis continued: “Last week, on Maria Bartiromo’s Show, she said ‘I want to thank you for your service to the country.’ That’s something you say to a veteran. You sat there and said nothing. So if you were waiting on your acceptance then you committed perjury because in your deposition, you said under oath, that you had been notified by the Naval Academy that you had been rejected prior to your spring break accident. Again, I just think you have a hard time with the truth. You also testified that you were going to be going to Harvard, that you’d been accepted there. Then later, you have to come back and say that’s not really true.”

Cawthorn said, “To touch on the allegations that I am somehow dishonest, when it came to my nomination to the United States Naval Academy, after I had received a letter saying that I had not been accepted, I contacted Congressman Meadows’ office and he said there must have been something wrong with my nomination and that he would work on it. So, I was still awaiting my acceptance at the time of my accident. Also, to say that I did not get accepted to Harvard, I believe, is just a misunderstanding. I was accepted to Harvard’s online school and that is what I had to come back and fix.”