Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a conservative Republican firebrand, shook up next year’s congressional race on Thursday night when he announced he would run for a different congressional district — effectively pushing a more traditional state lawmaker who was expected to run out of the race.
“North Carolinians don’t settle for the status quo. We defy it. We made history together last year when you sent me to Washington to shake up the swamp and fight for you,” Cawthorn said in a video he tweeted on Thursday.
He cited the fact that redistricting has created a “brand new” 13th Congressional District, which splits his current 14th Congressional District.
“After consulting my family, my constituents and with prayer for consideration, I believe the answer is clear. We have a unique opportunity to increase conservative leadership in North Carolina,” Cawthorn said.
“I have every confidence in the world that regardless of where I run, the 14th Congressional District will send a patriotic fighter of D.C. But knowing the political realities of the 13th District, I’m afraid that another establishment, ‘go along to get along Republican’ would prevail there. I will not let that happen. I will be running for Congress in the 13th Congressional District.”
Cawthorn, first elected to the House of Representatives in a June 2020 runoff election, has faced controversy over past statements on “rigged” and “stolen” elections, “America First” rhetoric and, more recently, calls for primarying the Republican lawmakers who voted for the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill.
When North Carolina’s 13th District was drawn without an incumbent, many political observers speculated that state Speaker Tim Moore would run for that seat in 2022.
But shortly after Cawthorn announced he would run for the seat, Moore announced Thursday night he would not.
“While much of the speculation about my potential congressional candidacy has been driven by the media and political pundits, I have been humbled by the folks in our region who expressed their wishes for me to represent them in Washington,” Moore wrote in a statement on Twitter.
“While I have given it consideration, right now I am focused on the issues at hand that impact all North Carolinians… I look forward to serving with my colleagues as Speaker of the House of Representatives and securing a supermajority for the Republicans next year.”
Cawthorn portrayed his decision as one meant to further conservatism.
“This move is not an abandonment. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It is a move to take more ground for constitutional conservatism,” he said.
North Carolina’s state Senate and state House approved a new map for congressional districts in the state on Nov. 4, according to the All About Redistricting tracker from Loyola Law School.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s Redistricting Tracker, “The new [North Carolina] map… has two fewer Democratic-leaning seats, two more Republican-leaning ones and one more competitive seat, for a final tally of 10 Republican-leaning seats, three Democratic-leaning seats and one competitive seat.”
Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesperson from North Carolina and a GOP strategist, told ABC News he was not surprised by Cawthorn’s decision. There was “a lot of speculation Cawthorn would make a move like this… He feels he can do it, and win,” Heye said.
But even though Cawthorn argued he had to choose when his old district was split, Heye called his decision “pure politics.”
“The way the lines are drawn, he would have been reelected in his old district,” Heye said, adding that Cawthorn “absolutely” meant to push out Moore.
Some might see Cawthorn’s decision as a sign of infighting within the Republican party between the political establishment and a “anti-establishment, MAGA” wing.
While Heye said that the district shift does reflect in-party fighting, he told ABC News that, “It’s hard in today’s [Republican party] to determine what is ‘establishment’ or not… Those kinds of arguments essentially are antiquated.”
Heye said he “can’t recall a move like this — running to block someone else who isn’t even in the House.”