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The articles from Inside Politics With Steve Harrison appear first in his weekly newsletter, which takes a deeper look at local politics, including the latest news on the Charlotte City Council, what's happening with Mecklenburg County's Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina General Assembly and much more.

Can Any Of Madison Cawthorn's 11 Challengers Knock Him Out In 2022?

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, shown here at a December 2020 event, already has challengers lined up for the 2022 election.
Gage Skidmore
Rep. Madison Cawthorn, shown here at a December 2020 event, already has challengers lined up for the 2022 election.

Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene has unofficially held the title of “Most Extreme Member of Congress” since January, thanks to assorted false assertions and extreme views that led to calls for censure.

But North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn in the 11th Congressional District showed this week he’s still competing for that label, too.

“The things that we are wanting to fight for, it doesn’t matter if our votes don’t count,” Cawthorn said at a meeting of the Macon County GOP in Franklin on Sunday. “Because, you know, if our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place — and it’s bloodshed.”

Cawthorn’s comments led to much-deserved condemnation, which is almost certainly what the youngest member of Congress — and devotee of former President Donald Trump — wanted.

But is there a chance the 26-year-old could be a one-term congressman?

Four Republicans and seven Democrats have already announced they are running against him in 2022.

Last fall, voters talked about the race between him and Democrat Moe Davis. Carmen Jackson of Gilkey voted for Joe Biden and also Cawthorn.

She said at the time she liked Cawthorn’s “energy” and his decision to run after a car accident that put him in a wheelchair.

“I think he made some bold mistakes by saying some things and got caught,” she said. “Of course, who doesn't when they start something like that? But he was motivated and lots of good energy, which is something I'm looking forward to.”

Cawthorn’s talk of “bloodshed” may cost him voters like Jackson. But that may not be enough.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Western Carolina political science professor Chris Cooper. “He’s turned a lot of people off, but has he turned them off enough to vote for a Democrat?”

A New Map

The first X-factor is redistricting.

North Carolina is getting a 14th congressional district, and the entire map has to be redrawn. The problem for Democrats is that Cawthorn’s 11th District is not gerrymandered for a Republican. It’s a basic western North Carolina seat that is just … conservative.

The current 11th District. It’s conservative, but not because of a gerrymander.
NC State Board of Elections
The current 11th District. It’s conservative, but not because of a gerrymander.

The district has about 35,000 too many people, based recent population counts from the U.S. Census Bureau. In the upcoming map-making this fall, the General Assembly could easily cut Avery County (population 17,500) and Mitchell County (population 15,000) and get close to the ideal population size.

They are at the northeast corner of the district.

Losing Avery and Mitchell would help the Democrats, but not by much. Avery and Mitchell both netted Cawthorn about 5,000 votes each in last year’s election. But Cawthorn won the district by nearly 55,000 votes.

Already Four Primary Challengers

The second hurdle for Cawthorn is the Republican primary in March. It’s rare for a sitting member of Congress to draw a primary challenge, but Cawthorn is so polarizing he’s already drawn four.

The most recent is Army veteran Rod Honeycutt of Buncombe County.

On his campaign website, Honeycutt called out Cawthorn: “I will not watch from the sidelines as inexperienced, self-promoting characters seek to further careers while the hard-working men and women of WNC suffer the consequences. Serving at the tip of the spear requires a steady hand and proven leadership.”

He joins veteran Wendy Nevarez, inn owner Bruce O’Connell and Haywood County sheriff’s deputy Eric Batchelor. None has held elected office.

Cooper said Navarez is the Republican that Democrats most want to see win, but adds “that won’t get you very far.” And he said such a large field only helps Cawthorn, who only needs to clear 30% to avoid a run-off.

“If you split the anti-Madison vote four ways that doesn’t help anyone but Madison Cawthorn,” Cooper said.

A wildcard: Would Republican state Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County enter the race? Cooper said maybe.

“The question is whether Cawthorn’s $1.6 million (in fundraising) has scared him off,” he said.

The General Election

Last year, retired Air Force Colonel Davis ran a tough campaign against Cawthorn, calling him out on social media as an “habitual liar” and a racist.

Davis lost by 13 percentage points.

He has said he’s not running again. But seven Democrats are running. They include LGBTQ activist and Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Eric Gash, a school principal and the lone Black candidate in the race. He’s been endorsed by Health Shuler, the last Democrat to win the district. Cooper said a problem for the Democratic field is that they are all from either Buncombe (the most liberal in the area) or Henderson counties.

“They need to win the western counties yet that’s not where they are getting their candidates from,” Cooper said.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.