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Trump's chosen candidate loses key primary to 24-year-old insurgent

President threw his weight behind unpopular candidate who turned out to be friend of outgoing congressman’s wife

Andrew Naughtie
Wednesday 24 June 2020 16:07 BST
Republican congressional candidate runs against 'DC insiders'

Donald Trump has long boasted of his perfect endorsement record, so far backing the winning candidate in every race he’s decided to weigh in on.

That winning streak came to a crashing halt on Tuesday, however, when a candidate he had thrown his full support behind was trounced by a 24-year-old political novice.

The runoff Republican primary for North Carolina’s 11th congressional district was triggered in March when Mr Trump selected its representative, Mark Meadows, to be his chief of staff.

Mr Meadows and Mr Trump heavily backed Lynda Bennett, a local real estate agent, in her campaign for the solidly Republican seat, with the president twice tweeting his support and even recording a robocall for her.

However, her candidacy was poorly received among local Republicans. As Politico reports, it later came to light that Ms Bennet is a friend of Mr Meadows’s wife and that her campaign website had been registered by Mr Meadows’s brother. She also appeared to have advance warning that Mr Meadows was resigning, allowing her to file her papers when most other would-be candidates had too little time.

In the end, she lost Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff to Madison Cawthorn, who is both well-known and popular in the area. Partially paralysed in a catastrophic car accident at the age of 18, he has a compelling personal story of recovery and determination – and in another embarrassing slight to both Mr Trump and Mr Meadows, his primary campaign made a point of explicitly rejecting outside efforts to influence the race.

“I won’t be beholden to the DC insiders, to their Super PACs, or to any caucus chair,” Mr Cawthorn said to camera in one of his ads. “I won’t be under anyone’s thumb.”

But Mr Crawthorn did not mention Mr Trump by name. ​And while he may have thwarted the president’s own choice for the seat, he is running as a solid conservative, not an ideological apostate.

His campaign ads bear the slogan “Faith, Family, Freedom”, and in an interview with the right-leaning Washington Examiner in May, he listed his top priorities as safeguarding the second amendment, introducing more competition into the health insurance market, and fighting the rising enthusiasm for socialism among young people, whom he says are being deceived by “all these lies that sound good”.

While Mr Cawthorn is currently below the minimum age of 25 required of members of the House of Representatives, his birthday falls in August, meaning he will be old enough to take his seat should he be sworn in in January.

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