RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis endorsed a state legislator Thursday over U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn in their upcoming Republican primary, saying the first-term congressman has “fallen well short” of expectations.
Tillis' backing of state Sen. Chuck Edwards adds another consequential voice in North Carolina's GOP willing to oppose Cawthorn, who has received criticisms from a larger swath of Republicans for recent comments, including one in which he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug.”
The top Republican leaders in the state legislature — House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger — also were featured guests at a lunch fundraiser Thursday for Edwards, one of seven Republicans challenging Cawthorn for the nomination in the May 17 primary.
“The 11th Congressional District deserves a congressman who is fully dedicated to serving their constituents,” Tillis said in a news release. “Unfortunately, Madison Cawthorn has fallen well short of the most basic standards western North Carolina expects from their representatives, and voters now have several well-qualified candidates to choose from who would be a significant improvement. I believe Chuck Edwards is the best choice.”
Cawthorn, who was elected in 2020 at age 25, is a strong supporter of Donald Trump. Cawthorn spoke at a rally in Washington on Jan 6, 2021, that questioned the outcome of the White House election won by Democrat Joe Biden. The riot at the U.S. Capitol took place after that rally.
A Cawthorn campaign commercial posted Thursday on Twitter includes what appears to be text from a quote from Trump stating Cawthorn has “my complete and total endorsement.”
Recently, Cawthorn has received negative publicity for being cited three times in five months for traffic violations — speeding and driving with a revoked license among them — and for the video about Zelenskyy. In the same short video, Cawthorn said the Ukrainian government "is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
Cawthorn and a spokesperson later attempted to clarify those remarks, with the congressman calling actions by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his country's invasion of Ukraine “disgusting.” After recent comments Cawthorn made on a podcast that angered fellow Republicans in Congress, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., met with Cawthorn this week and reprimanded him publicly.
Moore said Thursday that someone like Cawthorn doesn’t deserve to be in Congress.
“If you have clowns in office who aren’t serious about what they’re doing, you can’t get somewhere,” Moore told WNCN-TV while attending a fundraiser for Edwards. “I’m just kind of without the words to describe what Congressman Cawthorn is doing and saying. I mean, some of these ridiculous recent comments that continue to build on one another.”
A Cawthorn spokesperson didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the Republican opposition.
Cawthorn announced in November that he planned to run in a proposed congressional district closer to Charlotte, rather than to keep representing the far western mountains. Moore had also considered a run in that new district but decided against it. That district ultimately was thrown out by judges, and Cawthorn returned to a run in the reconfigured 11th District, which leans Republican.
Cawthorn's campaign raised $2.8 million in 2021 but had only $282,000 in cash entering this year, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Other primary opponents includes former political ally Michele Woodhouse and Wendy Marie-Limbaugh Nevarez, who is being supported by a super political action committee linked to Moe Davis, the 11th District Democratic nominee in 2020.
The top vote-getter in the upcoming primary would have to receive more than 30% of the vote to avoid a July 26 runoff with the second-place finisher.