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Republican Madison Cawthorn, Democrat Moe Davis Locked In Bitter Fight For Western NC Congressional Seat

Madison Cawthorn (left) and Moe Davis are trying to the win the seat vacated by Mark Meadows.

This year, Republicans seemed to have found a new, inspirational face: 25-year-old Madison Cawthorn, who was paralyzed from a car crash after high school.

He gave a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention.

“It took me over a year to recover,” Cawthorn said. “My first public outing in a wheelchair was to a professional baseball game. You know, before my accident I was 6-3. I stood out in a crowd. But as I wheeled through the stadium I felt invisible. At 20, I thought about giving up.”

Cawthorn is running in the conservative 11th District, which had most recently elected Mark Meadows, now President Trump’s chief of staff.

But what was initially projected to be a shoo-in is now considered to be only a "lean Republican" seat by the Cook Political Report.

Cawthorn has been criticized for taking an Instagram photo where he smiled in front of Hitler’s mountain retreat in Bavaria, a trip Cawthorn said was on his bucket list. Women have accused him of aggressive, unwanted sexual advances.

And last week, a Cawthorn campaign-created website attacked an Asheville journalist, Tom Fiedler, who has written critical stories about him. It said Fielder was working for “non-white males, who aim to ruin white males.”

Cawthorn said it was a “syntax error” and changed the wording to say the journalist was a defender of “left-wing identity politics.”

His opponent, Democrat Moe Davis, has attacked.

“I’ve been direct for calling out Cawthorn for what he is,” said Davis, a retired Air Force colonel and former Guantanamo Bay prosecutor. “A racist. Unqualified. A sexual predator and a habitual liar. That’s not defaming his character, it’s defining it.”

Davis said campaign professionals suggested he soften his message.

“The professionals who have been doing this for a while said there is no upside to beating up a kid in a wheelchair,” he said. “You can’t win that battle. But it doesn’t give him a free pass.”

The Charlotte area has two competitive congressional races – the 8th District, from Cabarrus to Cumberland County, and the 9th District, from south Charlotte to Robeson County. But those races been overshadowed by the presidential and Senate race.

But in western North Carolina, everyone is paying attention to Cawthorn versus Davis, says Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina.

“It’s been a nasty campaign,” Cooper said. “There hasn’t been a week that’s gone by that there hasn’t been another accusation about Madison Cawthorn about sexually inappropriate behavior or racism. And Moe Davis has punched on that stuff hard.”

Before he ran for office, Davis last year riffed on Michelle Obama’s line that when Republicans go low, Democrats go high.

Davis said that’s "BS," and that when GOP extremists go low, he tweeted “we stomp their scrawny pasty necks with our heels and once you hear the sound of crisp snap you grind your heel hard and twist it slowly from side to side for good measure.”

“When I decided to run, I had folks who said you can have someone go in and clean up your social media,” Davis said. “And I elected not to do that. And my belief was if I said it I ought to stand by it.”

Rutherford County – 90 minutes from Charlotte — is at the eastern end of the 11th District.

Eric Field was campaigning in a light rain for Republicans this week in downtown Rutherfordton. He says he was shocked by that tweet.

“I mean this is the type of person we want representing the 11th Congressional District? And my answer is, I don’t think so,” Field said.

But when asked whether the Davis tweet was similar to a President Trump tweet, Field agreed. He said, “I like the president. I think the president has done a great job. I think he shoots from the hip sometimes.”

Despite his inflammatory statements, Davis says some Republicans have told him they are voting for him because Cawthorn is too young.

But Cawthorn is also attracting Joe Biden voters, like Carmen Jackson of Gilkey.

“I like his energy,” she said. “I mean, I think he made some bold mistakes by saying some things and got caught, of course. But he was motivated. And has lots of good energy — which is something I’m looking forward to.”

In a court-ordered redrawing of the district last year, the 11th District now has the liberal city of Asheville. But Trump still won the new district by double-digits four years ago.

Cooper said there is only one other congressional district that is represented by a Democrat that gave Trump a larger victory: Minnesota’s 7th District.

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