North Carolina’s 11th congressional district is receiving an unusual amount of attention during this year’s midterm election watch. The primary race features incumbent Rep. Madison Cawthorn and challenger state Sen. Chuck Edwards. The district has a strong Republican advantage, so the winner of the May 17 Republican primary will likely win the election.
Edwards laid out his case against Cawthorn in an interview with Business Insider, saying, “I’m the only person in this race that has actually done the things that all the other candidates say they want to accomplish.” He continued: “My qualms with Madison Cawthorn are based on his performance and his poor attendance record in Congress.” Cawthorn ranks near the bottom when it comes to voting, missing 37 of 594 congressional roll call votes from January 2021 to May 2022.
At 26 years old, Cawthorn is the youngest member of Congress. During his brief time as a legislator, he’s been involved in numerous controversies, including twice bringing a gun to an airport checkpoint and claiming that Washington elites engaged in orgies and did cocaine at parties he attended. There are also allegations that he violated insider trading laws through his involvement with the cryptocurrency Let’s Go Brandon. Cawthorn also called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug” and the Ukrainian government “incredibly evil.” His most recent controversy is a leaked video showing him nude in bed while engaging in sexual activity with another man.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy rebuked Cawthorn and even said back in March that “He’s lost my trust,” despite still pledging to support his campaign. By contrast, Edwards has picked up endorsements from North Carolina state Sen. Thom Tillis, House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, and Senate Majority Whip Jim Perry. Retiring North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr has not made an endorsement but said of Cawthorn: “he’s been an embarrassment at times.” On a local TV program, Moore said, “If you have clowns in office who aren’t serious about what they’re doing, you can’t get somewhere…. I’m just kind of without the words to describe what Congressman Cawthorn is doing and saying.”
Edwards has been the state senator for North Carolina’s 48th district since 2016 and was reelected by 18 points in 2020. His top legislative priorities are to secure the border, balance the budget, achieve energy independence, and to empower parents and education. He previously worked in corporate middle management for McDonald’s and now owns seven McDonald’s franchises. Tillis called Edwards “a hardworking conservative leader who delivers conservative results.”
A super PAC affiliated with Tillis has spent more than $300,000 on Cawthorn attack ads. Cawthorn’s campaign most recently reported a $242,304 campaign war chest and $126,729 in debt while Edwards has raised $650,000. Cawthorn leads Edwards 38 percent to 21 percent, according to a GOPAC Election Fund poll conducted from April 25 to 26. Twenty percent of voters are undecided and 21 percent are split among five lesser-known candidates. When breaking down the data, Edwards leads Cawthorn 32 percent to 31 percent among voters who have an opinion of both candidates. To avoid a July runoff with Edwards, Cawthorn will need to finish with over 30 percent of the vote. The May 17 primary is open and independent voters can cast ballots as Republicans.
The primary is a test case for Republican voters on whether they want a Trump-style conservative or a traditional conservative representing them in Washington.