When Madison Cawthorn joins the North Carolina delegation in the House of Representatives in January, he will become the youngest member of Congress and the youngest Republican ever elected to the House.
The 25-year-old will also likely be a lightening rod for controversy. He has already drawn allegations of racism and positioned himself as highly conservative on issues ranging from abortion to racial justice. On Tuesday, after his decisive victory against Democratic challenger Moe Davis, Cawthorn may have set the tone for his first term in office, in the mold of President Donald Trump, by sending a tweet.
“Cry more, lib,” he wrote, just after the election results swung in his favor.
Cawthorn secured a surprise win in the June primary when he defeated Republican Lynda Bennett, who had been backed by Trump to replace former GOP congressman Mark Meadows after he left office to become the White House chief of staff.
Cawthorn won the seat representing North Carolina’s 11th District by more than 54,000 votes on Tuesday.
He turned 25 in August, just meeting the minimum age to run for office in the House. He will be the first person born in the 1990s to be elected to Congress and will join just over two dozen millennials serving in the federal legislature, according to the Pew Research Center. The youngest member of the current Congress is 31-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who won her seat representing New York in the 2018 midterms, shortly after her 29th birthday.
Cawthorn, a real estate investor, spoke at the Republican National Convention in August after winning his primary, emphasizing his age and the adversities he had overcome after being partially paralyzed in a 2014 car accident.
“If you don’t think young people can change the world, then you just don’t know American history,” he told the RNC crowd.
Not long after making headlines for his primary victory in June, Cawthorn again garnered national attention for actions that raised questions about his proximity to white supremacist-linked symbols and talking points.
In mid-August, photos surfaced showing Cawthorn visiting the Eagle’s Nest, Adolf Hitler’s compound in southern Germany, in 2017, which the candidate said he counted among his “bucket list” travel destinations. “It did not disappoint,” he wrote in a caption accompanying the photo online.
“I think racism is disgusting,” he told The Associated Press in August after the photos at Eagle’s Nest surfaced.
In October, a page on a website run by Cawthorn’s campaign rankled many by accusing a journalist of working with “nonwhite males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., responded to the website’s claims by calling Cawthorn “somebody who is so clearly racist.” (Cawthorn later said that “the syntax of our language was unclear and unfairly implied I was criticizing Cory Booker” and reiterated that “I have condemned racism,” Yahoo News reported.)
A report by Jezebel also noted that Cawthorn has often posed in front of the Betsy Ross flag, an outdated version of The Star-Spangled Banner that has become a favored symbol among some far-right extremists.
The incidents have left Cawthorn repeatedly denying allegations that he is racist during his campaign. Cawthorn also claimed that he would have been a target of German Nazis had he been alive and living in Europe during the 1940s.
He said his political opponents “want to try and twist it to where I am some kind of Nazi sympathizer, when I’m a man in a wheelchair,” he told The Associated Press during his campaign. “These cowards and these bastards would have killed me.”
Despite the controversies, Cawthorn managed to maintain the success he found in the primaries and easily won his seat in the general election Tuesday. About two hours after he had gained enough votes to be confident of his win, Cawthorn tweeted a second time, striking a more magnanimous tone.
“From the bottom of my heart, Thank you,” he wrote. “All glory goes to God and I am excited to serve each and every member of this district. Thank you!”