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On Tuesday evening I was asked, firmly but politely, by the Hendersonville police department to leave the premises of a small auto detailer and tire shop.
But this was no ordinary auto detailer and tire shop: It was the home of the final (?) flameout of freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who had just lost his primary in a stunning night, that didn’t even extend — as some analysts might have expected — to a June runoff election. Thanks to a resounding showing by Cawthorn’s main rival, state Sen. Chuck Edwards, it was all over for Cawthorn.
It wasn’t explicitly mentioned, but my unceremonious rejection from the party appeared to be at the behest of campaign staffers for the youngest member of Congress – although Cawthorn’s spokesperson denied that was the case.
Edwards’s event was still in full swing as Cawthorn’s was turning the lights off. The new GOP nominee was handshaking with exuberant supporters just a few minutes across town at a low-key but well-kept lodge and inn. There was much back-slapping and excited outbursts from Edwards’s fans and volunteers.
But at the scene of Eric Siffringer’s Auto Detail-turned Madison Cawthorn Headquarters, the desolate parking lot was only occupied by a handful of journalists, one or two Cawthorn campaign staffers, and a contingent of police officers who were friendly at first. But they quickly changed their tune after I snapped a few pictures of the Cawthorn campaign’s sign and the quickly-emptying lot.
“Streets are for vehicles,” one kindly advised me when I walked across the completely empty road to snap a picture from longer away.
Cawthorn briefly addressed supporters on Tuesday and blamed a “loser’s mentality” among Republican leaders in Congress for their ire against him. Unfortunately for him, that statement was technically made by one of several losers in the race, given that the AP and numerous networks had called the race minutes earlier.
The Congressman did make a “polite” and “congenial” concession call to the victor, Edwards told reporters, who added that the 26-year-old had offered his support in November to keep the seat out of Democratic hands. The contrast between the darkened lot and Edwards’s bright hotel convention room, where supporters were happily cheering and jibing about the scandals that had clearly affected Cawthorn’s support in the primary, could not have been more pronounced.
A number of supporters stayed late into the evening to congratulate Edwards. One who had to depart early was newly-reelected state Representative Jake Johnson, who was overheard before he left joking with another Edwards supporter about a steady leak of sexually explicit images and videos of Cawthorn spearheaded by an anti-Cawthorn super PAC over the past few months.
“I guess it was one video too many,” Johnson said, laughing, to an unidentified Edwards fan, who quipped back: “Who knows what other videos are out there?”
In the end, the finale of Cawthorn’s campaign mirrored his entire House career. Contempt for journalists — who were not allowed inside the building for the entirety of his watch party Tuesday evening and ushered out when it ended — was obvious. The reporters present witnessed a stunning and sudden desertion of Cawthorn’s closest supporters and allies as it became clear that he’d lost.
Failing even to limit Edwards to a runoff in June, the first-term Congressman will now serve out the next six-and-a-half months of his two-year House tenure as a lame duck. Meanwhile, a state-level lawmaker previously completely unknown outside of North Carolina just proved to the nation that defeating a Trump-anointed champion is possible, albeit under very specific circumstances.
Trump was another loser of the night, with his favored candidate in Pennsylvania’s Senate primary unable to claim victory on election night as well. But that wasn’t an issue for Cawthorn, who had nothing but praise for the former president who had kept his endorsement but blamed him for “foolish mistakes” just a day earlier.
”No matter what you are facing, when Donald Trump has your back, he has your back until the end,” he concluded.
This article was amended on 21 May 2022 to include the denial from Mr Cawthorn’s spokesperson that they asked police to eject the author from the premises.