RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A 24-year-old real estate investment CEO won Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff for a western North Carolina congressional seat over President Donald Trump’s endorsed candidate for the nomination.
Madison Cawthorn defeated Lynda Bennett to complete an upset for the GOP nomination in the 11th Congressional District. Bennett had received the president’s backing on Twitter and the earlier endorsement of Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who until recently had held the seat.
Cawthorn called for the runoff after he finished second to Bennett in a 12-candidate primary in early March. Bennett had failed to get more than 30% of the vote need to win outright. The scheduled May runoff was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cawthorn, who would reach the constitutionally-mandated age of 25 to serve in the House in August, was paralyzed from the abdomen down after a 2014 car accident. He’ll face Democrat Moe Davis, a former military prosecutor, and other party nominees in November. The district is still considered Republican-leaning despite recent boundary changes following litigation.
Cawthorn won despite Bennett’s big endorsements — Sen. Ted Cruz also among them — and outside support from the political arms of the House Freedom Caucus that Meadows once led.
Cawthorn, who also described himself as a strong Trump supporter, attempted to reframe Bennett’s endorsements, saying he wouldn’t be beholden to anyone in Washington if he reached Congress. But his campaign also got help from a super PAC that backs candidates allied with Sen. Rand Paul.
Meadows announced late during December’s candidate filing period he wouldn’t seek reelection, and endorsed Bennett, a Haywood County real estate company owner and friend of Meadows’ wife.
With voters worried about the pandemic’s spread, mail-in absentee ballots were popular in the 17 mountain counties within the 11th District leading up to the runoff. Early in-person voting sites were open and election day precincts in several of the district’s 17 counties were consolidated mostly to address social distancing challenges. Poll workers wore face masks and provided voters single-use pens and cotton swabs to mark ballots.