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In the Madison Cawthorn neighborhood, strong opinions about him, pros and cons

HENDERSONVILLE, North Carolina — When Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s name comes up in this town of 14,000, where he was born and raised and where it’s not hard to run into someone who’s known him since his early days. homeschooling, there tends to be a gut reaction.

There are sighs from the Republicans who elected him to his first term in November 2020 and met his meteoric rise in Washington with the praise and excitement reserved for a hometown hero – only to be let down by his behavior. and its bad press ever since.

There are groans and looks of utter disgust from people with Democratic and Independent leanings – some of whom chose to vote for the first time in a Republican primary in hopes of removing him from office.

And there are stares and shrugs from his die-hard supporters, Donald J. Trump-style “America First” conservatives, who attribute Mr. Cawthorn’s controversies to youthful indiscretion and instead reserve their opprobrium to the liberal media, the Democrats. , his Republican adversaries and deep-pocketed political parties.

‘I don’t care what he did,’ said Moiena Gilbert, 77, a retired licensed practical nurse who pulled up in an old Ford pickup truck to cast her ballot early this week at the County Board of Elections. Henderson. “I will vote for the man.”

What there is not much is indifference. In this southwest corner of the state, a largely working-class, Republican stronghold set against the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, it seems almost everyone has made up their minds on the young ember once seen as the future. of the Republican. To party.

In interviews with more than 30 voters in Mr. Cawthorn’s 11th congressional district, including nearly two dozen registered Republicans, it was clear his support had waned, even among Trump’s far-right supporters. who said Mr Cawthorn’s immaturity and lack of focus on his voters had caused them to disregard his endorsement by the former president and give their vote to one of his rivals.

Mr Cawthorn needs only 30% of the vote on Tuesday to avoid a run-off in a crowded field divided between seven other challengers. They are led by Chuck Edwards, a state senator who has the endorsements of most members of the Legislative Assembly in his district, and Michele Woodhouse, the Republican president-elect of Mr. Cawthorn’s district who was once among his strong supporters.

Whether Mr Cawthorn can dodge a run-off has been a constant source of debate in his hometown among friends, colleagues and in Christian circles.

“I think there’s a lot of support for Madison – maybe they’re afraid to tell you that,” said a Baptist deacon leaving Bethany Bible Church after a Bible study on Wednesday night.

Chip Worrell, 62, a founding member of the same church and a carpenter who helped erect his building, disagreed.

“I don’t think he will be re-elected,” he said.

Mr Cawthorn, 26, who was injured in a car crash aged 18, has rarely made headlines since his first run for Congress in 2020, when it emerged he had made up parts of his autobiography. He falsely claimed that his injuries kept him from attending the Naval Academy, but admitted in court that she had already rejected him. Young women at the conservative Christian college he attended before dropping out accused him of sexual harassment.

Elected in 2020 as the youngest member to ever serve in the House, he helped spread Mr. Trump’s stolen election lies and aligned himself with fellow far-right incendiary Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado.

But his re-election campaign was marred by a seemingly endless series of embarrassing reports – starting with the time he claimed people he “admired” in Washington had invited him to orgies and used cocaine. (The remark drew a rebuke from House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.)

The revelations ranged from traffic violations, such as driving with a revoked license, to two incidents in which he brought a loaded gun into an airport. Politico posted photos of Mr. Cawthorn in lingerie. The Washington Examiner reported his involvement in a cryptocurrency scheme and suggested he may have violated federal insider trading laws. And nude photos and videos circulated showing him in sexually suggestive antics, in what appeared to be attempts to raise questions about Mr Cawthorn’s sexuality.

Mr. Cawthorn’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Write on Twitterhe told his followers that he and a friend had just rudely joked.

“I told you there would be a drip campaign,” he wrote. “Blackmail will not win. We’re going.”

Democrats criticized some of the attacks for stoking homophobia. Supporters in Mr. Cawthorn’s district see the leaks as the work of his opponents or GOP leaders like Mr. McCarthy.

But a super PAC set up to oust Mr Cawthorn, who has presented himself as a clearinghouse of damaging information about him, said the advice he received came largely from former aides and supporters of Mr. Cawthorn.

“From the beginning, our focus was on firing Cawthorn, but firing him in a factual and honest way,” said David Wheeler, a Democrat who co-founded the group, American Muckrakers Inc., with Mr. Cawthorn’s 2020 Democratic opponent, Moe Davis.

In Henderson, Transylvania and Haywood counties, many voters recalled how Mr. Cawthorn won the seat – replacing Mark Meadows, who became Trump’s White House chief of staff – by modeling himself on Mr. .Trump.

Many compared his boldness to that of Mr Trump and brushed off photos of him partying or having fun as ramblings of a young man. Some believed them to be false.

“If I was a youngster with a cell phone, I wouldn’t have a job either,” said David Roberts, 33, an engineer and unaffiliated voter in Hendersonville who planned to vote for Mr Cawthorn on Tuesday. “I’m not voting for him to be my best friend or to date my daughter.”

Mr Cawthorn’s attempts to smuggle guns through airport security and his traffic violations, which many considered irresponsible given the accident that left him in a wheelchair, were less easy to eliminate. “Shame”, “immature” and “embarrassment” were common refrains.

“He broke the law. He really hasn’t done anything for this district that I can think of,’ said Scott Tekavec, 59, a maintenance technician who said he doesn’t usually vote Republican but decided to vote for Mr. Edwards as a sign. of disdain. for Mr. Cawthorn.

However, perhaps the most frequently cited objections to Mr Cawthorn were his missing significant vote track record in Congress and reports that he had moved to a newly drawn conservative district nearby before deciding to run for re-election in its headquarters in the 11th Arrondissement.

“He’s not doing his job,” Lynn Cagle, 47, a Haywood County truck driver, said of Mr Cawthorn as he left a senior center after voting for Mr Edwards.

Mr. Cawthorn’s opponents lack his attention-grabbing ability, but they see an opening nonetheless. At a rally in Hendersonville, Ms Woodhouse presented herself as a true ‘America First’ conservative and Mr Cawthorn as ineligible.

And Rodd Honeycutt, a retired army colonel, said he voted for Mr Cawthorn in 2020 but felt the need to challenge him this year because of his lack of leadership.

“There’s a trendline of missteps and indiscipline,” Mr. Honeycutt said, adding, “It’s really a distraction right now when we should be focusing on kitchen table issues like the cost of gas, or inflation, or what’s going on with the war in Ukraine.

At Bethany Bible Church, Christine Tuttle, 61, an accountant, and her daughter, Lizzie, 20, said they remembered Mr Cawthorn as respected, outgoing and popular among homeschool families.

They said their image of him was tarnished when young women came forward with accusations he had forcibly kissed them.

Ms Tuttle said she voted for him again in 2020. “He had so much promise,” she said.

She and her daughter said they would not vote for Mr Cawthorn this time. But they said they know a lot of people who would.


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