U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, N.C.-11, is facing criticism on several fronts as he begins his re-election campaign in his far-western N.C. home district. Cawthorn previously stated he would move to a district closer to Charlotte to run for re-election. At the time, he stated he “did not want to see a go along to get along Republican” be elected, seeming to aim the comment at a possible opponent, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, who was speculated to be considering a run in a newly created district.
Cawthorn returned to his “home district” after a court-adopted congressional map no longer included a GOP-leaning congressional district near Charlotte that would have included Gaston and Cleveland Counties. Addressing his return for the first time, Cawthorn told the Asheville Citizen-Times Tuesday that he was “trying to be tactical” by expanding the conservative movement.
“We want less established Republicans in Washington D.C., which is why we made that move,” Cawthorn said. “Now, we’ve come back. We’re very confident we’ll win in a landslide.”
This week, a video surfaced showing Cawthorn’s comments during an Asheville Town Hall Saturday in which he called Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky “a thug” and the country “incredibly evil.” The video first surfaced in the comments section in an article about former George W. Bush Chief of Staff Karl Rove.
“Remember that Zelensky is a thug,” Cawthorn is shown in the video saying. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt, and it is incredibly evil, and it has been pushing woke ideologies.”
Cawthorn seemed to attempt to address the comments in a March 10 tweet:
The actions of Putin and Russia are disgusting.
But leaders, including Zelensky, should NOT push misinformation on America.
I am praying for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
Pray also we are not drawn into conflict based on foreign leaders pushing misinformation.
— Rep. Madison Cawthorn (@RepCawthorn) March 10, 2022
But it may have been too late to head off a barrage of online criticism from fellow Republicans and primary opponents. Former 11th District Chair Michele Woodhouse, once a top ally of Cawthorn but is now running against him tweeted:
ITS INCOMPREHENSIBLE THAT A MEMBER OF CONGRESS WOULD CALL UKRAINES PRESIDENT A THUG!
— Michele Woodhouse (@NC11_Woodhouse) March 10, 2022
State Senator Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, who is also facing Cawthorn in the GOP primary tweeted:
“Let’s be clear. The thug is Vladimir Putin. We must unite as a nation to pray for President Zelensky and the brave people of Ukraine who are fighting for their lives and their freedom. Anything less is counter to everything we stand for in America.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis also rebuked Cawthorn on Twitter, writing that Cawthorn’s contention that Zelensky is a “thug” or the Ukrainian government is “evil” is part of the “deranged propaganda” that the Russian government has been spreading across the world. “Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans and nearly every single member of Congress are united in support of Ukraine’s fight for freedom,” Tillis said.
U.S. Senate candidate Pat McCrory is also using Cawthorn’s statements to bolster his efforts against Congressman Budd, given Budd’s own comments about Russia.
“While bombs are dropping on Ukrainian daycares and hospitals, Congressman Budd and Congressman Cawthorn praise and excuse Putin and degrade our Ukrainian allies. They both owe all North Carolinians, as well as all Ukrainians, a sincere apology,” McCrory tweeted.
Cawthorn has also recently been cited for driving without a license after a series of speeding tickets were not resolved.
“Our office expects the traffic matters to be resolved quickly and we remain focused on serving the constituents of NC-11,” Luke Ball, a Cawthorn spokesperson, said in a statement to WRAL News.
It isn’t the first time the freshman congressman has come under fire. Back in May he took heat about his attendance for Capitol Hill votes. The government watchdog Pro-Publica has singled him out as one of the most absent members of the U.S. House.
“Rep. Cawthorn has missed 6.8% of votes in the 117th Congress (2021-22). This makes him the 19th most absent member of the House.”
The congressman has also missed 34 of the 510 roll call votes, since taking office in January 2021, according to govtrack.us. Of the 435 members of the U.S. House, 416 have better records of showing up and voting during this session in Congress.
Cawthorn’s attendance does appear to have improved somewhat. In May of 2021, Axios reported that Cawthorn had missed 16.2% of the official votes cast in the U.S. House. When it came to missed votes, Axios wrote, “Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) led the pack, missing 16.2% of votes back then. Cawthorn ranks sixth overall among all members — both House and Senate — in terms of missed votes in May of last year.”
At the time the Cawthorn camp offered the congressman’s wedding and honeymoon as the reason for his absences.
“Rep. Cawthorn married the love of his life on April 3rd of 2021. Due to his honeymoon, he missed House votes occurring between April 13th and April 16th,” his spokesperson Micah Bock told Axios.
Two days before Christmas 2021, Cawthorn announced he and his wife were divorcing after eight months of marriage.
“When my wife Cristina and I were engaged, I was not a member of Congress,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter at the time. “I felt called to serve and we both agreed that I should run. Our victory was unprecedented, but overnight our lives changed. That change has been both hectic and difficult, it’s neither the pace nor the lifestyle we planned for.”
Cawthorn met his wife at a fake CrossFit competition staged by an Army captain he met in Russia, who introduced him to his future wife.
Despite Cawthorn’s recent issues, the dynamics in the race still advantage him. He is by far the best-known candidate in the 8-person field. Cawthorn just needs to top 30% to avoid a run-off. The top vote winner will advance to the general election in the fall if they receive more than 30%.
The district is a deep-red district and will likely elect a Republican in the fall.