The conservative beltway lost another congressional seat to an insurgent candidacy this week when 24-year-old Madison Cawthorn defeated widely-endorsed Lynda Bennett in North Carolina’s 11th congressional district.
Bennett positioned herself as a supporter of President Trump’s “America First” agenda despite reports that she once denounced the president. The conservative beltway, including Trump, endorsed Bennett.
Her backers included former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the House Freedom Fund, the Senate Conservative Fund, House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Freedom Caucus Wives, David Bossie of Citizens United, and Matt Schlapp’s American Conservative Union.
In May, Bennett had a campaign ad clipped of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) endorsing her.
Then came Trump’s endorsement. Sources told Axios that it was Meadows’ wife, Debbie Meadows, who convinced the president on June 4 to back her friend against Cawthorn. Later that day, Trump tweeted out an endorsement.
Please let this serve as my Complete and Total Endorsement of a great fighter and ally in North Carolina, [Lynda Bennett]. She is strong on Crime, Borders, Military, our Great Vets & 2A. She will be a great help to me in DC. EARLY VOTING STARTS TODAY. We need Lynda Bennett!
More than a week after the endorsement, Trump again posted his support for Bennett, this time asking his supporters to donate to her candidacy.
.@LyndaBennettNC has my Complete & Total Endorsement. She is a great fighter & ally in North Carolina. Lynda is Strong on Crime, Borders, Military, our Great Vets & 2A. She will be a great help to me in DC. We need Lynda to help DRAIN THE SWAMP! VOTE EARLY!https://t.co/0HTBHOHNSr
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2020
Meanwhile, Cawthorn — a motivational speaker and real estate CEO — attacked Bennett from the right, pushing back against her laundry list of endorsements.
“As your congressman, I won’t be beholden to the D.C. insiders, to their super PACs, or to any caucus chair,” Cawthorn said in an ad from April. “I won’t be under anyone’s thumb.”
Bennett banked the Trump endorsement, running a robocall in the final days before the primary election and a commercial highlighting the president’s support. The House Freedom Caucus’s super PAC spent close to half a million dollars promoting Bennett in ads.
On election day, Cawthorn defeated Bennett with more than 65 percent of the vote.
In Virginia’s 5th congressional district, the conservative beltway saw a similar upset, this time against an insurgent Dave Brat-style candidate.
Incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-VA held the congressional seat for less than two years when he was defeated by Bob Good in the party’s nominating convention process. Riggleman had the endorsement of Biggs and Jerry Fallwell Jr.
Last year, Good found the opening for his candidacy when Riggleman co-sponsored legislation to create a new visa worker program to import thousands of blue-collar foreign workers to compete against American construction workers for jobs.
Like Brat, Good centered his campaign on the issue of ending illegal immigration and greatly reducing legal immigration.
“It is a critical issue for many reasons and frankly, it is the number one priority of our campaign, is reforming immigration,” Good told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview in May. “Not just ending illegal immigration … we both know the Democrat Party doesn’t agree on that, but not just ending illegal immigration but managing legal immigration in a way that puts America first and American workers first. My opponent has voted time and again to allow hundreds of thousands of more foreign workers to come in and take American jobs at lower wages.”
Riggleman coasted on his endorsement from Trump, which came in December 2019 at the behest of his political director Brian Jack:
Congressman @Denver4VA Riggleman is a true CONSERVATIVE leader who has done a great job for Virginia and will support our #MAGA Agenda. He defends our right to bear arms, protect our Borders & help small businesses. Denver has my Total Endorsement!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2019
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., cut a robocall for Riggleman in which he proclaimed his and his father’s support.
“He’s strong on immigration, the Second Amendment, and pro-life issues,” Trump Jr. said in the call.
The insurgent victories come weeks before a series of primaries could follow the trend. In Alabama, grassroots conservatives are campaigning hard for Jeff Sessions while Tommy Tuberville has been endorsed by Trump and the business lobby.
In Tennessee, former U.S. ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, endorsed by Trump and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is running a close race with outsider Manny Sethi, an orthopedic trauma surgeon.
Cawthorn, in a statement after his victory, suggested the race was not about Trump. Bennett, though, had hoped otherwise.
“I do not believe this election has been a referendum on the president’s influence,” Cawthorn said. “The people of western North Carolina are wise and discerning. You observed both candidates and simply made the choice you believed is best for our district.”
John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder.