The Tar Heel Congressional Race to Replace Trump Chief-of-Staff Mark Meadows—GOP Madison Cawthorn v. “Team Blue’s” Moe Davis September 6, 2020
Part of the 2020 GOP Convention re-nominating “Me, Me, Me, Me, Me” Demagogue Donald was held in Charlotte, North Carolina. Let’s look at another area of that key swing state where a hot congressional race is brewing. In that contest, GOPer Madison Cawthorn (25), one of the speakers at the “Trumpvention” extravaganza, (nypost.com, Bowden, 8/26/20), will be facing Democrat Moe Davis (62). They will be competing for the open seat in the Tar Heel 11th Congressional District (CD). In 12/2019, incumbent 4th-term Rep. Mark Meadows decided not to run again. Meadows went on to “bigger and better things (NOT).” On 3/30/2020, Meadows resigned from the NC 11th to become Donald’s Chief-of-Staff (rollcall.com, McPherson & Pathe, 12/19/19, 116th Cong. At Your Fingertips, businessinsider.com, 8/12/20, Panetta, usatoday.com, Burgess, 3/06/20).
The Tar Heel 11th CD encompasses most of western NC. Technology and tourism are the economic pillars. Part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in the NC 11th. In 2017, the Smokies had 11.3 million visitors and was rated the most popular park in the National Park Service (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac).
The NC 11th was historically anchored by the heavily Democratic city of Asheville. However, many of Asheville’s northern suburbs were among the state’s most conservative GOP areas. The residents who lived in the 11th’s northern counties bordering on TN were some of the most reliably “Red” counties in the nation. South of Asheville, the counties were Democratic-leaning. Political races in the 11th were, therefore, very volatile. From 1978-2012, this district switched parties seven times and threw out six incumbents. In 2011, the state GOP legislature redrew the 11th to make it one of the most Republican congressional districts in the state. Much of Democratic Asheville was shifted to the heavily GOP 10th CD. Asheville was split in such a way that some of that city’s neighborhoods had one side of the street moved to the 10th while the other side of the street stayed in the new 11th. As a result, three-term Democratic incumbent Heath Shuler did not run in 2012 and GOPer Mark Meadows succeeded him (Cohen & Cook 2020, Timm, nbcnews.com, 9/09/17). After litigation, a panel of NC judges ruled in 2019 that the 2011 map was a partisan gerrymander and ordered new congressional districts to be drawn ahead of the 2020 election. In 12/2019, a new map was approved. Under this map, the Tar Heel 11th will include the western part of Rutherford County and Buncombe County. Henderson County, as well as Jackson, Macon, Madison, and Transylvania Counties will also be part of the court-ordered reconfigured 11th . The new 11th still leans GOP, but less so than before, and once again, includes all of “Blue” Asheville in Buncombe County. Retiree-friendly Henderson County constitutes a GOP stronghold. After this redistricting, GOP Cong. Meadows announced he would not run (webservices.ncleg.gov, McPherson, 12/29/19, LeBlanc, cnn.com, 10/28/19, ncleg.gov, 11/15/19, Cohen & Cook 2020).
Asheville, NC native David Madison Cawthorn was home-schooled in Henderson, NC and worked at the Chick-fil-A restaurant, a business noted for its strong opposition to same-sex marriage (cbn.com/cbnnews, 1/08/20). In 2014, Cong. Meadows nominated Cawthorn to the U.S. Naval Academy, but his application was rejected before a 2014 car accident that left Cawthorn paralyzed and in a wheelchair. During his congressional campaign, Cawthorn played fast and loose with the truth. He claimed that his accident had “derailed” his plans to attend the Academy (Fielder, 8/12/20, citizen-times.com). In a deposition, where Cawthorn unsuccessfully sued for money for his injuries, Cawthorn admitted under oath that his application to the Naval Academy had already been rejected before the crash (citizen-times.com, Boyle, 8/23/20). After the accident, Cawthorn worked as a staff assistant in Cong. Meadows’ district office (Fielder, 8/12/20). Cawthorn attended Patrick Henry College during the 2016 fall semester but dropped out after earning mainly “D” grades. He blamed those poor grades on his injuries interfering with his ability to learn (Fielder, 8/12/20). Cawthorn is the CEO of SPQR Holdings, LLC, a Hendersonville, NC real estate investment firm. This firm was created in 8/2019 and reported no income. Cawthorn is its sole employee (Fielder, 8/12/20, sosnc.gov/online_services, SPQR Holdings, LLC).
And there is more. Cawthorn came under fire for using the term “SPQR Holdings, LLC” for his real estate investment company. These initials derive from the Latin ones, “the Senate and People of Rome,” that denote the imperial Roman Empire at its height. In recent years, the “SPQR” initials have been embraced by skinhead gangs in Italy and by some white U.S. nationalists (citizen-times.com, Boyle, 8/23/20). Additionally, according to “World Magazine,” a Christian periodical, several women have come forward to accuse Cawthorn of aggressive and inappropriate sexual behavior, including unwanted kissing on a bad date, and putting his hand on a young woman’s thigh in a college dining hall (citizen-times.com, Boyle, 8/23/20). In 2017, Cawthorn toured Germany. When most people visit Germany, they often go to the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Cologne Cathedral and take a boat cruise on the Rhine. Some visit the sites of former Nazi concentration camps like Dachau near Munich, as does Biden, or Buchenwald near Weimar, like President Obama did in 2009. Where did Cawthorn go? He posted an Instagram picture of his visit to Hitler’s vacation residence, “Eagle’s Nest,” which he said had been on his “bucket list for awhile (charlotteobserver.com, Morris, Sales, 8/14/20, timesofIsrael.com).” In this post, Cawthorn called Hitler “Fuhrer,” a German term of reverence meaning “leader,” and a “supreme evil (jpost.com, cnn.com, 8/13/20, Serfaty & Foran, Panetta, 8/12/20).” Some Jewish residents of the NC 11th, including Esther Manheimer, the Democratic mayor of Asheville, the district’s largest city, expressed concern. Cawthorn was criticized for allegations of far-right sympathies, which he denied (wlos.com, Le, J., 8/12/20, Sales, timesofIsrael.com, AP, Robertson, 8/12/20).
In the 6/2020 GOP 11th CD primary, Cawthorn upset Lynda Bennett who had been endorsed by both Donald and Cawthorn’s former mentor Meadows by a 31.6 % margin (Fandos, nytimes.com, 6/23/20, nytimes.com/interactive, 6/24/20, politico.com, Oprysko, 6/24/20). Trump and Meadows now solidly back Cawthorn (Boyle, citizen-times.com, 8/23/20).
Cawthorn is considered a rising GOP “star” and spoke on the third night of the GOP “Trumpvention (nypost.com, Bowden, 8/26/20).” If elected to Congress in 2020, Cawthorn would be the youngest GOPer and one of the youngest members ever elected to the House (cnn.com, 6/23/20, npr.org, 6/24/20, Sprunt). He would “like to be the face of the Republican Party when it comes to health care (Sprunt, npr.org).” Translation: For repealing Obamacare. Cawthorn describes himself as a “Christian and a constitutional conservative (foxnews.com, 6/24/20, Stimson).” He wants to be the “conservative,” read extreme right answer to “the Squad,” the leftist group of four Congresswomen led by Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Cawthorn stated he ran for Congress because he was “disappointed” by how the GOP handled full control of the White House and Congress in 2017. In Cawthorn’s words, “It felt like Trump was having to pull teeth from Congress to try to get anything done, and so I want to go over to Washington, D.C. to break that status quo, to actually get something done.” Since winning the GOP nomination, Cawthorn has done interviews with conservative outlets and speaks with the likes of wackos Glenn Beck and Charlie Kirk (usatoday.com, 8/26/20). During his convention speech, given from his wheelchair, Cawthorn addressed the issue of his age. He spoke of the young ages of the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln when they ran for office, served in the military, or wrote the Declaration of Independence. He talked of the young WWII GI’s “who scaled (Normandy’s) cliffs, crossed oceans, liberated (concentration) camps (‘How can I be an anti-Semitic white supremacist sympathizer with these words?’), and cracked enemy codes.”’ At the end of his speech, Cawthorn stood up from his wheelchair and stated that Americans “young and old” must be “a radical for freedom, a radical for liberty, a radical for our republic (nypost.com,Bowden, 8/26/20).” A Trumpian extremist radical.
Meet GOP Cawthorn’s Democratic opponent, Morris “Moe” Davis. Shelby, NC native is the son of a 100% service-disabled WWII veteran. Davis earned his 1980 bachelor’s degree form Appalachian State and a 1983 law degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law. In 1992, Davis obtained masters’ degrees in military law from George Washington University and the U.S. Army JAG School (ballotpedia.org, defenselink.mil, “Biography”). Davis served in the U.S. Air Force from 1983-2008 retiring as a colonel. He served as the third Chief Prosecutor of the Guantanamo military commissions from 9/2005-10/2007. He resigned from this position after he refused to use evidence obtained through torture, political influence, and pressure in prosecutions (theglobeandmail.com, Gorham, 1/10/06). He later worked as an administrative law judge, a law professor, and a national security expert. Davis was a television commentator (ballotpedia.org). As an administrative law judge with the Labor Dept. (2015-2019), Davis ruled in 2019 that an Enterprise Rent-A-Car Baltimore, MD subsidiary had violated U.S. labor law while contracting for the Federal government. He ordered the company to pay a $6.6 million fine and offer restitution for discrimination against African Americans in hiring, training, and promotion. He also ruled on black lung disease and whistleblower cases (baltimoresun.com, Campbell).
If this race boiled down to a candidate with experience versus one who played fast and loose with his biography, has little business or political experience, and dabbles in white supremacist tropes, Davis should clobber Cawthorn. However, this is the Tarheel 11th, still a very “Red” GOP district even under its newly reconfigured status. In 2016, Donald carried the new 11th by 17 points and Cong. Meadows won re-election by over 20 points in 2018 (Panetta, 8/12/20, businessinsider.com). A poll conducted by the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) from 8/05-8/06/20 had Cawthorn leading Davis by just 5 percentage points, 46-41%, with 6% supporting other candidates and 7% undecided. This DCCC poll has Davis leading among non-whites (a small group in the 11th) 68%-6% and by voters under 40 by 4 points, 43%-39%. Cawthorn, however, leads by 10 points among the heavily white majority and by 8 points in the 65 and over group, frequent voters (Panetta, 8/12/20). Since that time, Cawthorn spoke from his wheelchair at the “Trumpvention” and was heavily praised by the media for his emotional story of overcoming his handicap. Trump has repeatedly campaigned in swingy NC and he plans to go back there to puff up his own campaign, as well as GOP Sen. Thom Tillis’, and Cawthorn’s (See citizen-times.com, Boyle, 8/23/20). Trump won NC in 2016 by 4 points with strong rural turnout from areas like the 11th that overwhelmed Democratic regions. Bet on Donald to be stumping all over the rural areas again and again (See Cohen & Cook 2020). Biden is, according to a Morning Consult Poll, leading in NC by just 2 points, statistically insignificant, and that margin will surely decrease by Election Day. Because of the controversy surrounding Cawthorn and Davis’ strong record, the campaign will be more competitive. The Cook Political Report has shifted the Davis-Cawthorn race from “likely” GOP to “lean” GOP. That means this race still favors “Team Red” but is not a “slam dunk.” Davis can win if he gets financial aid and a tremendous turnout from Democratic Asheville, other “Blue” voters, and undecideds. The race is winnable for Davis only if he runs a near perfect contest.