WASHINGTON — Buckling under the weight of scandal, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C. — a favorite of former President Donald Trump — lost his re-nomination bid in western North Carolina’s 11th District on Tuesday, NBC News projected.
State Sen. Chuck Edwards, a conservative backed by many of the state’s establishment players, won with about a third of the vote in an eight-way race. That left Edwards set to advance to November’s general election and Cawthorn, 26, to see his House career come to an end after one term in January.
Cawthorn spokesman Luke Ball told reporters Tuesday night that Cawthorn had called Edwards to concede.
Cawthorn, 26, lost despite an eleventh-hour appeal from Trump, who encouraged voters to look past his run-ins with the law, claims that fellow lawmakers use cocaine and engage in orgies, and images of him wearing lingerie and gyrating naked atop another man in bed.
“Recently, he made some foolish mistakes, which I don’t believe he’ll make again,” Trump, who had previously endorsed Cawthorn, said Monday on Truth Social. “[L]et’s give Madison a second chance!”
Many Republican voters in the district felt that Cawthorn was an embarrassment — and, perhaps more important, that he sought national attention at the expense of doing his job at home — a sentiment repeated in interviews NBC News conducted in the district this month.
“He’s a hot mess,” Republican voter Susan Newman, 53, said at the time. “I really don’t see him doing anything in the district — and he just keeps getting in trouble.”
Edwards, who represents about 40 percent of the district in the state Senate, declined to say in an interview two weeks ago whether he would support House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for speaker if Edwards were to be elected and Republicans were to take control of the House.
“We have to see who is in the running,” Edwards said at the Miles River Restaurant in Henderson County, adding that he would vote for “the person that I think has the strongest conservative values and shows the ability to hold a caucus together in order to get things done.”
In November, Edwards appears likely to face Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who held a commanding lead in a crowded field for the Democratic nomination. The district has a clear Republican lean: Trump won it by 10 percentage points, according to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Cawthorn got off on the wrong track with many voters this cycle by initially choosing to run in a neighboring district before he decided to seek re-election in the 11th District, instead.
The apparent result is “fantastic news for America and particularly for the reputation, self-esteem and prestige of the district,” said anti-Trump Republican consultant Liz Mair, who conducted opposition research on Cawthorn for one of the outside groups that sought to help defeat him. “There are so many people there who are so massively embarrassed by [Cawthorn] that it’s just off the charts.”
Jonathan Allen is a senior national politics reporter for NBC News, based in Washington.