US Rep. Madison Cawthorn to seek reelection in NC's westernmost district

U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn on Monday announced he'll run for reelection in North Carolina's westernmost district.

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Madison Cawthorn
Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter

U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn on Monday announced he'll run for reelection in North Carolina's westernmost district.

The return to an area that includes his Henderson County home is a pivot from a November decision by Cawthorn to leave the district to pursue a more Republican-friendly seat that had been widely seen as drawn for state House Speaker Tim Moore.

“Western North Carolinians want a fighter in Congress," Cawthorn said in a statement Monday. "With their support, I look forward to returning to Washington as a sophomore member and helping enact major change with a historic Republican majority."

A new 2022 congressional map drawn and enacted by a North Carolina court last week all but forced Cawthorn back to his home district. The area he had sought to serve, the 13th-turned-10th district, is now largely represented by Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry. The new Charlotte-area 14th Congressional District seat Cawthorn could have vied for now leans Democratic.

Cawthorn's announcement came nearly an hour after his campaign submitted candidacy paperwork to the Federal Election Commission that showed the congressman would run in the 11th Congressional District. Cawthorn filed with the North Carolina State Board of Elections Monday afternoon.

Chris Cooper, a Western Carolina University political scientist, said Cawthorn's decision last year to leave his home district and file in the old 13th district under a map Republicans passed in November could hurt his reelection prospects.

"The first group that he's going to have to appease is his own party," Cooper said. "He has made no secret of his willingness to attack his own party. He's by no means a shoo-in at this point, and he would have been virtually a shoo-in had he simply stayed in the district."

When Cawthorn switched districts to represent an area that included Moore's Cleveland County home, Moore ruled out a congressional run of his own. But when lawmakers redrew the map after a court order this month, a toss-up seat outside the city of Charlotte appeared to be designed for Moore.

A panel of judges in Wake County Superior Court decided not to approve the legislature's redraw and ultimately created and approved a map of its own that left Moore without a viable congressional district to pursue.

On Friday, Moore and other GOP lawmakers named in a redistricting lawsuit appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. They asked that the interim congressional map not be implemented ahead of the 2022 elections. The congressional lines now in place would only remain this year.
During a conference hosted by a Republican think tank in Raleigh over the weekend, Moore told the conservative Carolina Journal news site that he plans to seek another term as his chamber's leader instead of run for Congress.

"I do intend to serve a fifth term as speaker," Moore told the outlet. "We're gonna go out there and work hard and make sure that we can maintain, but more importantly, expand our numbers. If the members of my caucus want me to continue serving, I'd be honored to do so."

Moore's campaign on Monday did not respond to requests for comment from WRAL News on the speaker's future political plans.

Cawthorn is still vulnerable, even without Moore as a potential congressional opponent.

He faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Chuck Edwards, who submitted his candidacy paperwork with the state on Monday. Republicans Matthew Burril, Wendy Marie-Limbaugh Nevarez, Bruce O’Connell and Michele Woodhouse have also submitted paperwork or announced plans to seek the party's nomination.

Woodhouse said in a statement she was "undeterred" by Cawthorn's announcement. Edwards reminded voters of Cawthorn's decision to not run in his home district under the maps lawmakers passed in November.

"Congressman Cawthorn abandoned the people of these mountains, and I stepped up to represent them," Edwards said in an interview. "I believe the people of these mountains deserve someone in Washington, D.C., that prioritizes their interest over anyone else's self-interest."

Also looming over Cawthorn is an expected candidacy challenge from voters seeking to prevent him from getting his name on the ballot. The group argues Cawthorn should be disqualified from running because they say his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot violated the 14th Amendment.

Cawthorn told attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that the threat to his candidacy was serious and could impact future political hopefuls.

"If they are successful in being able to keep me off the ballot, it will set a precedent that anyone who had questions or some concerns about the 2020 election and what happened there... they will be able to bar every single one of those people from being able to hold office in America and destroy the America First mission," Cawthorn said.

Cooper, the Western Carolina University political scientist, said he expects the Republican that wins the primary to also succeed in the November general election, with the toughest challenge to Cawthorn happening in the leadup to the May 17 primary.

"[Cawthorn] is facing a very crowded primary field, where there's already a candidate taking up the America First lane in Michele Woodhouse," Cooper said. "There's Chuck Edwards taking up the establishment wing. There's about half a dozen other folks, many of whom have been running for months and months. Cawthorn had previously abandoned the district, so it's going to be tough."


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