The president tweeted his endorsement of Bennett in early June, and launched a robocall saying that she would help him “fight the crazy Nancy Pelosi and that radical liberal socialist group trying to destroy our country.” House Freedom Action, a leadership PAC aligned with the former congressman, spent nearly $ 500 billion on the airwaves to propel Bennett.
Meanwhile, local Republicans in the district accused Meadows of scheduling his eleventh hour retirement last December to help Bennett replace him in Congress. In the days leading up to the North Carolina runoff, local Republicans said the Cawthorn campaign had more grassroots energy and some predicted that Bennett could suffer Meadows’ attempts to help her.
In an interview after his victory Tuesday night, Cawthorn said he did not believe his victory should cast doubt on Trump’s influence and promised to support him in Congress.
“I don’t think this was a referendum on the influence the president has. I think the people of western North Carolina are very picky and just wanted to send someone who they thought would best represent them,” he said, adding. “There will be no more supporter of the president than me.”
The result was a blow to Trump, who boasted of having a perfect endorsement record in the Congressional primaries. As the news of Bennett’s defeat bounced off Trump’s orbit Tuesday night, some close to him wondered how he would take the news.
For Trump, it’s the most surprising thing in a sudden series of setbacks. North Carolina’s loss comes less than two weeks after another Trump-backed candidate lost his fight for the nomination. Representative Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) Lost a district convention attended by approximately 2,500 Republican delegates, many of whom were angered at having officiated at a gay wedding last year.
And on Tuesday, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie easily won his primaries despite squabbling with the president this spring. While Trump did not endorse Massie’s opponent, the president called the congressman a “third-rate Grandstander” and asked to be expelled from the Republican Party after Massie lifted a coronavirus aid package.
What should have been a sleepy second lap on a deep red strip in North Carolina has been embroiled in state controversy. Meadows stated that he would retire just a day before the filing deadline, and local Republicans in the district openly suspected that he timed his announcement to benefit Bennett, who appeared to have received advance notice.
Bennett’s campaign website domain was registered on October 28, almost two months before Meadows announced his surprise retirement. And the domain appeared to have been registered by Scott Meadows, the congressman’s brother. Bennett launched his campaign Facebook page a day before Meadows announced.
Meadows also eliminated several state lawmakers who may have been watching his seat, further increasing Bennett’s chances. She did not disclose that she would retire until two days after the deadline for candidates who had already filed for one office to withdraw and switch to another position.
The congressman did not approve of Bennett until shortly before the March 3 primary, after audio of his attack on Trump mysteriously began circulating throughout the district.
“It’s edited to make it look like he’s against the president when he’s really very supportive, and it turns out I know that,” Meadows told POLITICO in February.
Bennett came first in March, but did not remove the 30 percent threshold necessary to avoid a second round.
Cawthorn’s allies used the audio in campaign ads. An advertisement for Protect Freedom PAC, a libertarian-leaning Republican super PAC with ties to Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ran an ad in the final days with the clip.