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Reaction to Cawthorn's move varies across WNC

Cory Vaillancourt
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (left) appears with Sen. Kevin Corbin, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and Rep. Mike Clampitt at an event in Sylva last fall.

It hasn’t even been a week since Congressman Madison Cawthorn announced he would run in North Carolina’s newly drawn 13th district.  In his current district, the political consequences of his decision are only just beginning to emerge.

New maps drawn by the Republican-dominated General Assembly didn’t contain many surprises.  Then Madison Cawthorn made his announcement on Nov. 11.

“We have a unique opportunity to increase conservative leadership from North Carolina. I have every confidence in the world that regardless of where I run the 14th Congressional District will send a patriotic fighter to D.C,” Cawthorn said in a video. “But, knowing the political realities of the 13th District, I am afraid that another establishment ‘go-along-to-get-along’ Republican would prevail there. I will not let that happen. I will be running for Congress in the 13th Congressional District.”

House Speaker Tim Moore almost immediately ruled himself out of the race in the 13th. That all but ensures Cawthorn will take that seat in the heavily Republican district.

Some of Cawthorn’s potential constituents in the 13th District aren’t exactly excited about the prospect. Susan Tillis, wife of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, said on Twitter that voters in the new 13th District didn’t need any intervention from Cawthorn and are capable of making their own decisions.

And some Republicans in Cawthorn’s current district weren’t happy with the move either. Former Cherokee County GOP Chair Shannon Greathead said on Facebook that Cawthorn had “disappointed a great many of [his] supporters,” and that he was now “part of the swamp.”

But there were already at least 11 other candidates from both parties lined up to run against Cawthorn in the 14th district, which is currently the 11th but will be renumbered for next year. 

Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara was the first Democrat to jump in, back in March.

“Well this is entirely consistent with the unfortunate approach Madison Cawthorn has taken since he got in office,’ Beach-Ferrara said. “He has turned his back on the people of Western North Carolina by failing to represent us and fight for the types of policies we need.”

Western North Carolina Democrats won’t have Madison Cawthorn to kick around anymore, but his departure now leaves the race wide open. Beach-Ferrara has raised a million dollars, nearly triple the amount of money as the other five Democrats combined, and says she remains focused on running the same campaign she’s been running all year long.

“We believe that starts with getting out there and meeting people where they are,” she said. “That’s why we’re knocking doors in every county across the district, and doing a lot of listening. We are hearing very consistent stories from people all across the district about what’s going on in their lives right now, and what they need, and what they want for themselves and their children and their families.”

Rod Honeycutt is a retired Army colonel and one of three Republicans who signed up to run against Cawthorn in the Primary Election before Cawthorn announced he was leaving. Like Beach-Ferrara, Honeycutt says he’s not going to change how he’s campaigning either.

“We’re gonna keep meeting at one to four different venues a day and continue to tell our message,” Honeycutt said. “We’re running on knowledge we’ve gained, experience we’ve gained and leadership experience we’ve gained through 37 years of service, focusing more on the issues of Western North Carolina.”

Then, there’s the American Muckrakers PAC, better known as firemadison.com. They’ve raised more than $40,000 with the aim of removing Cawthorn from office. PAC President David Wheeler said they’d anticipated Cawthorn’s move, and immediately launched a website called “Chicken Cawthorn.”

“Every Day, every second is about Madison in his own mind, and so he skips town, chickens out, and moves to a new district, assuming the voters in that district are just idiots,” Wheeler said.

They’ve also bought two chicken costumes and plan to trail Cawthorn to campaign events, trolling him by handing out fried chicken.

Other Republicans and Democrats are expected to jump into the 14th District race now that Cawthorn’s gone – especially Republicans.

Big names like Michele Woodhouse, Sen. Chuck Edwards and Sen. Kevin Corbin have been mentioned, but stay tuned – it will all come down to the candidate filing period, which begins in early December.

However, if the new maps are ruled unconstitutional due to pending lawsuits, all of this could become moot.

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