Trump endorses Bennett in western N.C. primary runoff

Lynda Bennett, candidate for the Republican nomination in the 11th Congressional district.

RALEIGH — President Donald Trump on Thursday endorsed Lynda Bennett in the Republican primary runoff for a western North Carolina congressional seat held until recently by his new chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

Bennett, a real estate company owner from Haywood County, got Trump’s support in a tweet on the day early in-person voting began within the mountainous 11th Congressional District. The election between Bennett and Madison Cawthorn is June 23.

“Please let this serve as my Complete and Total Endorsement of a great fighter and ally in North Carolina,” Trump’s message said, identifying Bennett’s Twitter handle. “She is strong on Crime, Borders, Military, our Great Vets & 2A. She will be a great help to me in DC.”

Bennett was the top vote-getter among 12 Republicans in the March primary but failed to exceed the 30% necessary to avoid a runoff. Cawthorn, a real-estate company CEO and first-time candidate, finished second and asked for the runoff. The winner will take on Democratic nominee Moe Davis and the Libertarian and Green Party nominees in November. The district, which includes 17 counties, is still considered Republican-leaning despite recent boundary changes following litigation.

While both GOP candidates strongly back Trump, the president’s endorsement of Bennett isn’t too surprising since Meadows, the longtime holder of the seat, had endorsed her before the March primary.

A former House Freedom Caucus leader and one of Trump’s strongest congressional allies, Meadows announced in December he wouldn’t seek reelection this year. A few days after that election, Meadows was named Trump’s chief of staff. He officially resigned from Congress in late March. The 11th District seat is currently vacant. The current candidates are seeking the two-year term that begins with the next session of Congress in January.

Interest in mail-in balloting, which started weeks ago, is high given health concerns of residents about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Early voting sites and election day precincts will still be open.

A memo from state elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell directs workers at early-voting sites and election day precincts to wear personal protective equipment. Voters are strongly encouraged to wear face masks and will be offered them, but Bell says voters without them won’t be turned away. Voters also will receive single-use pens and cotton swabs to cast ballots.