What does Madison Cawthorn’s impressive victory in the 11th congressional district second primary mean?
Judging by the top results of a Google search for Cawthorn, it is clear what the media’s take is:
Here is what we know from the headlines and accompanying pictures:
- Madison Cawthorn is young (He will be Constitutionally eligible to serve on his 25th birthday in August.).
- He has not previously held elected office.
- He is a North Carolina Republican.
But the headlines mostly emphasized that Cawthorn “beats Trump’s pick” (The BBC mistakenly referred to Cawthorn’s opponent, Lynda Bennet, as a “Trump nominee” in their headline, but they are British so I guess nobody should eat their lunch for that mistake.)
However, while Cawthorn’s win is a sign that Trump’s support is not a silver bullet to success in a Republican primary, it would be a mistake to take it as a sign that Trump’s support is slipping among rank-and-file Republicans. As Cawthorn makes clear in a media release after his win, this was not a contest between pro-Trump and anti-Trump candidates:
“Finally, I want to make something clear; I support our great president. I do not believe this election has been a referendum on the president’s influence. The people of western North Carolina are wise and discerning. You observed both candidates and simply made the choice you believed is best for our district. I look forward to fighting alongside our president after I’m elected in November,” Cawthorn said.
So, what accounts for Cawthorn’s win, in which he carried all but one of the counties in the district?
As Cawthorn alluded to in his statement, he had broader grassroots support in the district than did his opponent. That support is reflected in the nature of the endorsements Cawthorn received, as I noted last week when I wrote about the race (in which I did not venture a prediction):
One thing that separates the candidates is the endorsements they are touting. Cawthorn’s supporters include most of the former candidates for the 11th district Republican nomination. The most important of those is NC Sen. Jim Davis, who represents the seven westernmost counties in the 11th district (although the Cawthorn campaign lists Davis as “supporting” rather than “endorsing” him). Almost as impressive is that Cawthorn has been endorsed by most of the sheriffs in the district, along with a host of other local officials.
Cawthorn also benefitted from activists’ and candidates’ ire over what they believe was coordination between Bennett and former 11th district Congressman Mark Meadows, who announced that he would not seek reelection just hours before the filing deadline for the seat. That is likely at least part of the reason why most of the former 11th district Republican candidates backed him.
Cawthorn is going to carry that grassroots support into the General Election, in which he will face Democrat Moe Davis. The district is Republican-friendly; according to Sabito’s Crystal Ball, the district has a 9.9 percentage point Republican advantage.