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Substance still matters in politics

Haywood County resident Lynda Bennett was beaten badly in the Republican runoff primary for Congress last week against 24-year-old political newcomer Madison Cawthorn. As a reporter and editor who has been involved in the coverage of more than a dozen races for this congressional seat, I was heartened by her loss.

You know why? It’s not due to her party affiliation or even her views on the big issues facing this country and which Congress will have to grapple with over the next few years. As far as issues go, she differs very little from the candidate who thrashed her by an almost 2-to-1 margin on June 23.

The problem is that even before she held elected office, Bennett had become a politician who blamed others and the media for her problems (she even has a “fake news” section on her website), would not talk to the press or constituents, skirted campaign laws and acted as if she was entitled to the seat due to her endorsements from on-high. Bennett’s loss was good for the voters of Western North Carolina.

And the margin of the loss showed that voters in the district are paying attention. Look, when former Congressman Mark Meadows won this seat in 2012, he lived in Cashiers, was easily accessible to the media and constituents, and was all over the district holding town hall meetings. As he became a conservative media darling once in D.C., he transformed into the kind of politician most of us loathe — he became inaccessible to those he represents, he forsook Cashiers for a home somewhere close to the Asheville airport so he could hurry to Washington, and eventually became so drunk with power that he left the district without a representative in Congress with 10 months left on his term so he could serve as White House chief of staff.

As for Meadows, the safe bet is he’ll end up fired or forced to resign like his predecessors. Once that happens, there’s little doubt he’ll land somewhere in the Fox News stratosphere or as a consultant or lobbyist, another creature of the swamp he and his boss promised to drain.

As far as this race goes, Meadows tried to anoint Bennett in a very scurrilous sequence of events. As most in the district know, Meadows’ brother had registered a Bennett for Congress website prior to Rep. Meadows’ announcement of his resignation. He — Meadows — announced his resignation one day before the deadline for registering to run in the race, leaving other potential candidates scrambling to get to Raleigh and register. She then got the endorsement of such GOP high-ups as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus. Even the president Tweeted his endorsement, and on her website we get a photo of Trump even before we see Bennett. Talk about trying to ride in on the coattails of others.

Here’s the truth of it: Bennett was the lesser of the two candidates. She had positioned herself in seemingly all the right ways politically except one — getting in front of her constituents. Her refusal to debate or talk to the media — especially in a campaign that occurred during a global pandemic — left voters with only the hype and no substantive picture of who this candidate was. What kind of person was she? Most voters still don’t know and never will. Now it doesn’t matter.

The race for the 11th District seat now comes down to Cawthorn and Democrat Moe Davis, two seemingly quality candidates. My bet is we will all see plenty of these two, that they’ll hold debates and do lots of interviews, let the public have a clear choice of who they are and who they should support. There’s sure to be some nastiness as many outside-the-region national PACs are likely to get involved, but voters will decide who is best for this region.

Hopefully this is a lesson to other politicians. Yes, you can convince high-ups of your value to get their endorsements, and social media and other digital platforms can be useful in many ways. But voters want to know who you are, which may seem old-fashioned. Bennett forgot that simple truth, but the voters who sent her packing didn’t.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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