HENDERSONVILLE, NC — When Representative Madison Cawthorn’s name pops up in this city of 14,000, where he was born and raised, and it’s not hard to run into someone who knew him from his home school days, there’s usually a visceral reaction.
There are sighs from the Republicans who elected him to his first term in November 2020, meeting his meteoric rise in Washington with the praise and excitement reserved for a hometown hero — only to be disappointed by his behavior and bad press ever since.
There are groans and looks of utter disgust from those 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 eye rolls and shrugs from his die-hard supporters, “America First” conservatives in the fashion of Donald J. Trump, who have addressed the controversies of Mr. Cawthorn to youthful indiscretion and instead reserve their disgrace to the liberal media, Democrats, his Republican opponents and political groups with deep pockets.
“I don’t care what he’s done,” said Moiena Gilbert, 77, a retired graduate nurse aide who pulled into an old Ford pickup truck this week to vote early on the Henderson County election board. “I’m going to vote for the man.”
What there is not much is indifference. In this southwestern corner of the state, a predominantly workers’ and Republican stronghold against the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, it seems almost everyone has made up their minds about the young firefighter once thought of as the future of the Republicans. Party.
In interviews with more than 30 voters in Mr. Cawthorn’s 11th congressional district, including nearly two dozen registered Republicans, it was clear that his support had weakened, even among far-right Trump supporters who said Mr Cawthorn was immature and unable to act. his voters had led them to ignore his approval by the former president and vote for one of his rivals.
mr. Cawthorn only needs 30 percent of the vote on Tuesday to avoid a runoff in a crowded field split among seven other challengers. They are led by Chuck Edwards, a state senator who has the backing of most members of his district legislature, and Michele Woodhouse, Mr. Cawthorn’s elected Republican chairman of the district who was once one of his staunch supporters. used to be.
Whether Mr. Cawthorn can avoid a second round has been a constant source of debate among friends, colleagues and Christian circles in his hometown.
“I think there’s a lot of support for Madison — they may be afraid to tell you,” said a Baptist deacon who left Bethany Bible Church after a Wednesday night Bible study.
Chip Worrell, 62, a co-founder of the same church and a woodworker who helped erect the building, disagreed.
“I don’t think he will be re-elected,” he said.
Cawthorn, 26, who was injured in a car accident at age 18, has rarely disappeared from the headlines since he first went to Congress in 2020 when it was revealed that he had made up parts of his autobiography. He falsely claimed that his injuries prevented him from attending the Naval Academy, but admitted in court that it had already rejected him. Young women at the conservative Christian university 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 Trump’s stolen election lies and joined other incendiary far-right representatives, Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene and Colorado’s Lauren Boebert.
But his reelection campaign was marred by a seemingly endless series of embarrassing reports — starting when he claimed people he “looked up” to in Washington invited him to orgies and used cocaine. (The comment sparked a scolding from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.)
The revelations ranged from traffic violations, such as driving with a revoked license, to two incidents where he brought a loaded gun to an airport. Politico published photos of Mr. Cawthorn in lingerie. The Washington Examiner reported its involvement in a cryptocurrency scheme, suggesting it may have violated federal insider trading laws. And nude photos and videos have circulated showing him engaging in sexually suggestive antics, in what appeared to be attempts to question Mr. Cawthorn’s sexuality.
The campaign of Mr. Cawthorn did not respond to requests for comment. Write on Twitterhe told supporters that he and a friend were just joking.
“I told you there was going to be an IV campaign,” he wrote. “Blackmail won’t win. We’ll.”
Democrats have criticized some of the attacks for fueling homophobia. Supporters in the district of Mr. Cawthorn sees the leaks as the work of his opponents or of GOP leaders such as Mr. McCarthy.
But a super PAC that was set up to support Mr. Cawthorn, who has posed as a repository of harmful information about him, said the tips it received came largely from Mr. Cawthorn’s former aides and supporters.
“From the beginning, we focused on firing Cawthorn, but firing him in a way that was factual and fair,” said David Wheeler, a Democrat who worked with Mr. Cawthorn’s 2020 the group American Muckrakers Inc. founded. 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 White House chief of staff — by modeling himself after Mr. Trump.
Many compared his rashness to Mr. Trump’s, brushing off the photos of him partying or making fun of like a young man’s digressions. Some believed they were fake.
“If I were a young kid 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 date my daughter.”
Less easy to brush off were the attempts of Mr. Cawthorn to get guns through airport security and his traffic violations, which many considered irresponsible given the crash that left him in a wheelchair. “Shame”, “immature” and “shame” were common refrains.
“He broke the law. He hasn’t really done anything for this district that I can think of,” said Scott Tekavec, 59, a maintenance engineer who said he didn’t normally vote Republican but decided to cast a vote for Mr. Edwards as an expression of his contempt. for Mr. Cawthorn.
However, the most cited objections to Mr. Cawthorn were his track record of missing key votes in Congress and reports that he had moved to a newly elected Conservative district nearby before deciding to run for re-election to his seat. in parliament. 11th district.
“He’s not doing his job,” Lynn Cagle, 47, a truck driver in Haywood County, said of Mr. Cawthorn when he left a senior citizen center after meeting Mr. Edwards had voted.
The opponents of Mr. Cawthorn lacks his ability to attract attention, but they see an opening nonetheless. At a meeting in Hendersonville, Mrs. 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 trend line of missteps and indiscipline,” said Mr Honeycutt, 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.”
Speaking at Bethany Bible Church, Christine Tuttle, 61, a bookkeeper, 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 alleging that he had kissed them forcibly.
Ms Tuttle said she still voted for him 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 knew plenty of people who would.