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Posts tagged as “Madison Cawthorn”

Analysis: Controversies had little effect on Cawthorn’s campaign

Never mind his glowing words about Hitler’s home, the allegations by women of aggressive behavior, or several other controversies. Madison Cawthorn, the 25-year-old Republican, comfortably beat Democratic opponent Moe Davis 54.5% to 42.3%.

Cawthorn, who became the youngest member of Congress in modern history, won because the 11th Congressional District was, despite some new Asheville Democrats added to the redrawn map, still overwhelmingly filled with white, rural Republicans. 

“I can’t imagine a campaign littered with as many mistakes and accusations as Cawthorn’s,” said Chris Cooper, professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University. “The fact that he was able to pull out not just a victory, but a sizable victory, tells me that the demographics were destiny, and that the partisan patterns of this district ultimately were what carried the day.”

Davis’s campaign strategy was to rely on the newly included county of Buncombe, home of Asheville and many Democrats, and attract unaffiliated voters elsewhere in Western North Carolina. He succeeded in Buncombe but came up far short in the other counties.

The hippies smoking weed in Pritchard Park in the middle of Asheville are not a good representation of the district. If you took a drive around the other counties, you saw a lot of “Keep America Great” flags waving from pickup trucks.

“The 11th Congressional District is a lot more than Buncombe County,” said Cooper. 

For Davis to win, voters would have had to defy partisanship. And in a polarized age and a highly partisan election, that turned out to be an unrealistic hope for Davis.

The controversies

The headlines didn’t look good for Cawthorn. In July, Cawthorn endorsed debunked claims about human trafficking, a theory tied to right-wing conspiracy group QAnon. 

In August, a 2017 Instagram post resurfaced of Cawthorn smiling for a picture at Adolf Hitler’s vacation home, a trip on Cawthorn’s “bucket list.” In the caption he referred to Hitler as the “Fuhrer,” a German term of reverence. 

That same month, allegations surfaced of aggressive sexual behavior. Three women, two by name and one anonymous, came forward and accused Cawthorn of unwanted sexual advances. 

In October, an open letter signed by over 150 of Cawthorn’s former classmates at Patrick Henry College went viral for alleging that he engaged in “predatory behavior,” vandalism, and lying.  

Most recently, his campaign published a racist statement attacking Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Tom Fiedler, of leaving his job in academica “to work for non-white males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males running for office.”

But after all that, the controversies probably only cost Cawthorn 1 percentage point at most, Cooper said.

Davis had his own difficulties. His attempt to portray himself as the experienced, mature candidate was tarnished when vulgar tweets he’d written resurfaced. In his role as political commentator, Davis employed graphic and violent language, urging Democrats to stomp on the “scrawny pasty necks” of some Republicans and “twist slowly side to side for good measure.” 

Cooper said Davis “certainly wasn’t accused of sexual harassment or being a Nazi. But he was accused of contributing to polarized and increasingly divisive politics.” 

The bigger factors were simply the math of the district and the scarcity of split-ticket voting. 

“Republicans are gonna vote for Republicans and Democrats are gonna vote for Democrats,” said Cooper.

Above, Cawthorn posed with supporters at a campaign event. Photo by Bella Caracta | The 9th Street Journal

In Western N.C. race, events show how Cawthorn and Davis are a world apart

In Bakersville on Oct. 3, about 50 of Madison Cawthorn’s supporters crowded into a wooden pavilion, nearly all without masks, many sporting Trump attire, a few in cowboy boots, and one with a “Women for Trump” button featuring the First Lady. As people crammed in awaiting the arrival of the Republican nominee for Congress in the Western North Carolina district, a golf cart rolled up with a Confederate flag waving in the wind.

A day later, about 35 supporters of Moe Davis gathered for a concert at One World Brewing in Asheville. Parties were spaced more than six feet apart as they sipped on beer and enjoyed a mix of jazz and country music. Though some wore Davis buttons, they preferred casual attire to the louder political styles of the Cawthorn supporters. Nearly everyone wore a mask.

“We stand for the flag”

Cawthorn’s event, promoted on Facebook as the “Mitchell County Meet & Greet!” was held in a covered shelter at the Bakersville Pavilion. 

As more people crowded under the shelter, they sat on the wooden benches, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to make space. Those who couldn’t get a coveted seat or didn’t arrive early stood around the perimeter. Soon there were about 50 people.

Cawthorn was welcomed with cheers as he rolled his wheelchair through the dewy grass to the front of the pavilion.

“We, as patriotic Americans, say in this country we only kneel to Jesus Christ and our God. And we stand for the flag,” he told the crowd.

Cheers erupted. 

Many of Cawthorn’s supporters also showed their support for President Trump. Photo by Bella Caracta | The 9th Street Journal

The crowd became denser. People on the outside moved closer so they could hear him and get video and pictures with their phones.

It was a pro-Trump group. One of the few men who wore a mask had one that said “Trump” and a T-shirt that said, “Make America Great Again.” A teenage girl had “TRUMP” painted on her forehead in red and blue.

The fact that the president recently contracted the virus didn’t change Cawthorn’s view on masks. 

“I trust all of my supporters, people who come to my events, to make their own personal assessment,” he said during an interview with The 9th Street Journal after the event.

Many supporters looped through the meet-and-greet line more than once. Some wanted another picture, others just wanted to chat more. A few supporters brought him gifts. One woman handed Cawthorn a white envelope and someone else gave him a book. He signed posters with his face on it, posed cheek-to-cheek for photos, and shared laughs. 

Although he didn’t wear a mask during the event or while posing for photos, he offered to do so during an interview with The 9th Street Journal.

“If someone feels uncomfortable with me not being in a mask near them, then I want to take that precaution. Like when I see my grandparents, I always put a mask on,” he said.

However, about midway through the conversation, his blue mask began slipping down his face. It soon slipped below his nose, only covering his mouth. And he made no move to fix it. 

Plenty of hand sanitizer

At the event for Davis, the Democratic nominee, the merchandise table included hand sanitizer bottles with the campaign logo. The table was located on a balcony overlooking the stage and, like everything else at the event, was safely distanced from other tables and chairs.

Moe Davis hand sanitizer was available at his event. Photo by Bella Caracta | The 9th Street Journal

“We’re taking this virus seriously and want to do everything right,” said Davis. 

The event, located in the spacious outdoor seating area at One World Brewing, where they sell hemp ale and an IPA called Citra Bomb, drew about 35 people. They kept socially distant and waited to fill up plastic cups with beer from a brightly colored celestially-printed van. Two supporters opted for hard apple cider as they listened to folk singer Jane Kramer.

Davis, in a black mask, sat with his wife at a table, listened to the music and drank his beer.

On the high wooden fence beside Davis was a sign in the shape of a black heart that said “Black Lives Matter” and another that reminded customers to stay six feet apart. The establishment also had its own hand sanitizer at nearly every table. 

Davis’s supporters followed the sign’s directions. During the event, an attendee came up to him in an N-95 mask and kneeled on the ground, carefully keeping his distance.

Supporters at the Moe Davis event kept a safe distance from each other. Photo by Bella Caracta | The 9th Street Journal

At the end of the event, he thanked the campaign’s volunteers and contributors. When he said he pledged not to accept any corporate funding, the crowd cheered. 

“I want to make it clear that I wanna go to Washington and represent the people here in Western North Carolina,” Davis said.

In photo at top, a family poses for a picture with Madison Cawthorn. Photo by Bella Caracta | The 9th Street Journal

 

Analysis: Cawthorn employs a national ad strategy while Davis stays local

The poetry of American politics is now written in emojis and hashtags. In North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, the emojis are wavy American flags and the hashtags are Western North Carolina towns. 

The animated star-spangled banners belong to Madison Cawthorn, the Republican candidate, who uses the icons in subtle national calls for financial support to galvanize potential donors who don’t even live in his district. That red, white, and blue might work particularly well among the GOP donor pool. A 2007 Pew Research Center  report showed that 73% of Republicans say they display the flag at home, in their office, or on their car, while only 55% of Democrats do. 

In contrast, the Facebook ads Democrat Moe Davis directs to voters within his district come complete with hashtags denoting local cities and photo backdrops of Western North Carolina’s rolling blue mountains. 

Although one might expect the 37-year age gap between the congressional candidates to be reflected in their ad campaigns on Facebook, each candidate employs their own savvy strategy to target their intended audience — one national, one local. 

The two candidates primarily focus their advertising on Facebook, investing much more money on the platform than Google and Youtube. Davis is also running ads on WLOS-TV. At the time of publishing, Cawthorn had spent $163,756 on Facebook, and Davis had spent $36,816. 

Cawthorn: A National Approach

The moment President Donald Trump phoned Cawthorn from Air Force One to call his primary win “beautiful” was the moment Cawthorn launched his pro-Trump brand as a valiant warrior against “radical leftists.” 

“Pro-Trump, Pro-Life, Pro-Gun, Pro-Law Enforcement,” read the caption of one ad posted in August.

Cawthorn’s appeal to Republicans on a broader, national level is evident in his villainization of high-profile Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez make more appearances in Cawthorn’s Facebook ads than Davis does. One ad pictures Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez with Rep. Ilhan Omar, all covered in a monochromatic blood-red hue while posing adjacent to a photo of Mount Rushmore. “Add your name to fight back against the mob!” the caption reads. 

An ad posted by Madison Cawthorn’s campaign shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar covered in a red hue while posing adjacent to a photo of Mount Rushmore. “Add your name to fight back against the mob!” the caption reads. (Courtesy of the Facebook Ad Library)

“Your support will help me combat Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and AOC,” reads the caption of another ad. 

Cawthorn’s Facebook ads didn’t mention his opponent by name until September. However, he recently launched a website and Facebook community (currently four followers strong) called Moe Taxes, dedicated solely to attacking Davis. 

Cawthorn’s strategy to garner support on a national level is underscored by Facebook ads utilizing buzzwords and phrases like “radical leftists,” “left-wing mob,” and “the socialist Left.” This language further polarizes voters, signals his alignment with the Republican agenda, and makes his ads generalizable to a broad audience beyond Western North Carolina. 

What’s the point of focusing on voters that won’t even have Cawthorn’s name on their ballot? Money. Like a signature at the end of a document, nearly all of Cawthorn’s ads on Facebook have a bold box in either red, white, or blue that says “DONATE NOW.” 

That strategy seems to be working. Compared with Davis, a greater proportion of Cawthorn’s individual contributions come from out-of-state, according to financial records from the Federal Election Commission analyzed by Open Secrets.

These advertising tactics and fundraising successes are in conflict with how Cawthorn has said congressional elections should run.

“I believe I should only be able to fundraise inside of District 11. That would mean that I owe my successes only to the people that I represent,” he said at a Sept. 9 debate.

Davis: A Local Approach

Davis is keeping it local, often addressing Western North Carolina voters directly in ad videos or captions. 

Unlike the all-encompassing American flag that Cawthorn garnishes his ads with, Davis applies hashtags, used to increase engagement and draw in audiences of interest, for specific counties in District 11.

#asheville #brevardnc #hendersonvillenc #wnc #nc #waynesvillenc #sylvanc #cullowhee #franklinnc,” were among some hashtags Davis used in ads where he talked about legalizing marijana and making Western North Carolina the “epicenter for alternative energy.” 

The tagged locales paint a clear picture of Davis’s targeted region. He’s focused on the “#blueridgemountains” area.

Those hallmark mountains also appear as Davis’s background for ads, further signaling his focus on Western North Carolina.

In a Facebook ad that ran regularly from August through September, Davis flaunted a poll conducted by his campaign that put the two in a “DEAD HEAT!”

A Facebook ad posted by Moe Davis’s campaign declared the District 11 race a “DEAD HEAT!”

The graphic shows Davis and his campaign logo, which features mountains, with 40% of the vote and Cawthorn, his name in plain black text, with 42% of the vote. 

In the caption, Davis distilled the choice down to “a 25-year veteran,” or a “25-year old QAnon believer.” 

On Oct. 8, Davis’s active Facebook ads were almost exclusively shown in North Carolina. Many of Cawthorn’s active ad campaigns were primarily viewed in California, Texas, and Florida, while several were primarily viewed in North Carolina, according to the Facebook Ad Library.

The local focus that anchors the content and targeting of Davis’s Facebook ads extends through his campaign. At the Sept. 9 debate, he made it clear he’s staying in the district. 

“Since the first of the year, I’ve left the district for one night. My opponent’s been jetting around the country with the Trump kids and up in Washington,” said Davis.