A 24-year-old Republican candidate for the U.S. House roundly defeated a Trump-backed candidate in a North Carolina primary on Tuesday, in a surprising upset that ended the president’s perfect record of congressional endorsements this political cycle.
Madison Cawthorn is a conservative real estate investment CEO and motivational speaker who says he’s running for congress because “our faith, our freedoms and our values are under assault from coastal elites and leftists.”
On his campaign website, Cawthorn says: “I am running because America is worth fighting for. I’m a fighter. I’ve overcome great adversity. I will be a strong voice for faith, family & freedom.”
Cawthorn was nominated to the U.S. Naval Academy by former N.C. congressman Mark Meadows when he was a teenager in 2014, but after a car crash left him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair, he was unable to pursue that goal.
Cawtorn told Ballotpedia that the accident “built his faith, made him a fighter, helped him appreciate everyday, and inspired him to help everyone he encounters overcome whatever adversity they face in their daily lives.”
As President Trump’s chief of staff, Meadows handpicked Cawthorn’s opponent Lynda Bennett to fill his seat.
After Cawthorn thumped Bennett 65.8 percent to 34.2 percent Tuesday night, the president called to congratulate him on his “beautiful” victory.
The candidate appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss his surprise victory.
When asked if he’d heard from Meadows yet, Cawthorn replied: “I have not heard from Mr. Meadows but I have heard from the president so far, it was an honor getting a call from Air Force One.”
“He congratulated me, he was talking about how amazing a victory it was. He defined it as ‘beautiful,’” Cawthorn added. “He was talking about how impressive it was that we were able to overcome so many large obstacles that we did.”
Cawthorn said the president recognized that his team had run a great campaign that was “difficult to beat.”
“Also that we’re someone who can really help ease this partisan divide that’s going on in our country right now, help bring a lot of our voters together,” Cawthorn added.
In his victory statement Tuesday night, Cawthorn said his victory was not a rebuke of the president.
“I want to make something clear: I support our great president,” Cawthorn said in the statement. “I do not believe this election has been a referendum on the president’s influence. The people of western North Carolina are wise and discerning. You observed both candidates and simply made the choice you believed is best for our district.”
If Cawthorn is elected to congress, he will be the youngest candidate to do so since the 1970s.