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#NC11 Runoff Analysis: How Much Of An Upset Was It Really?

Helen Chickering
Madison Cawthorn speaks to supporters in March

Madison Cawthorn's overwhelming win Tuesday in the runoff election for the Republican looks like an upset, as the 24-year-old finished second to Lynda Bennett in the March 3rd primary.  His win Tuesday by a 2-to-1 margin wasn't as unexpected as it looks, though the vote totals were.

Western Carolina University political scientist Dr. Chris Cooper noted Cawthorn won 17 of the 18 counties that make up the 11th in the runoff.  Cooper told BPR's Matt Bush Wednesday that Cawthorn also conclusively won over the voters that went for state senator Jim Davis, who finished a close third in the March GOP primary.  You can hear their whole interview above.


How did Cawthorn go from a close second in the March primary to an overwhelming victor in the runoff? - "He did two things really well.  He needed both of those to win.  First, he increased turnout amongst his base.  As we were watching the early vote come in, and the mail-in vote come in,  places like Henderson County were turning out in very large numbers.  That was a good sign, but by itself it wasn't going to be enough.  Even if all the other voters broke evenly, the (increased) turnout wasn't going to help.  He flipped some voters.  He certainly flipped some Bennett voters, but more importantly he flipped a lot of the Jim Davis voters.  So the westernmost counties in the district, which went for Davis fairly big in the first primary, they broke for Cawthorn, and they broke for Cawthorn big."

There was a lot of discord in the Republican party during this primary.  Will that linger into the fall and the general election? - "If there's one thing Tuesday night taught us, it's that (discord) is unlikely to last into the fall.  This was a resounding victory among a Republican electorate.  So although it appeared to be a very divided Republican primary, it didn't look that way Tuesday night.  The Republican party in the 11th Congressional district is behind Madison Cawthorn.  By a 2-to-1 margin, that's a pretty big wind behind his back going into this general election."

President Trump endorsed Lynda Bennett, who lost convincingly.  How much will the president influence voters in the 11th district this fall? -  "The conventional wisdom is that the economy is the most important issue on the ballot, but I think Donald Trump is the most important issue in this ballot and this race.  I don't think the runoff shows the Donald Trump is unpopular among Republicans in this district.  After all, Madison Cawthorn in his campaign materials and in his acceptance speech, gave a nod to President Trump and said he is a supporter of President Trump.  So I think we should not mistake Madison Cawthorn beating Lynda Bennett to think that means that Donald Trump is less popular (with Republicans) in this district.  I also think that Moe Davis (the Democratic nominee) will also use the unpopularity of Trump with others in the district as a wedge issue, and he's already doing that.  

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.
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