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Rudow announces congressional bid in Western North Carolina

Buncombe County Rep. Caleb Rudow is the first Democrat to challenge WNC's incumbent congressman. Donated photo Buncombe County Rep. Caleb Rudow is the first Democrat to challenge WNC's incumbent congressman. Donated photo

The 2024 election season isn’t quite yet officially underway, but one Democrat isn’t waiting for Dec. 4 to get into the race for Western North Carolina’s congressional seat currently held by Hendersonville Republican Chuck Edwards. 

“We need somebody who’s going to be focused on the real problems in this area, and not focused on corporate interests and creating division,” said Rep. Caleb Rudow (D-Buncombe), currently a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives.

A native of Fairview, Rudow is the product of Buncombe County Schools and earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in philosophy because he’d wanted to become a rabbi at the time. After graduation, Rudow served in the Peace Corps in Zambia, among other places.

“Anybody who does grassroots work at some point gets interested in policy, because they feel like there’s got to be a better way to do this, or there must be some policy solution that fixes this,” he said.

That sentiment propelled Rudow to pursue a graduate degree at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, focusing on policy and data. He currently works as a freelance researcher and data consultant.

“I was going to keep doing that work internationally, and then Trump got elected and I felt like we had more work to do in this country organizing and getting rid of the meanness and bringing some sanity back to our politics,” said Rudow.

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When longtime Asheville-area Rep. Susan Fisher stepped down from her seat on Dec. 31, 2021, Rudow sought the appointment and got it. In 2022, he won his first election handily, but now has his sights set on larger goals.

“I’ve really felt called to work in service my whole life, and this next election is a really historic moment,” Rudow said. “I think a lot is going to rely on what happens next year, and I really feel like we need good candidates to step up and run and serve Western North Carolina and folks in this area that have been left behind, like working families.” 

Edwards’ 2022 election was largely about re-establishing trust in the institution after the less-than-stellar performance of previous Republican congressmen. Mark Meadows abandoned his seat just as the federal government passed some of the biggest spending packages in history, leaving his constituents without a voice for almost a year, and has since been indicted. Madison Cawthorn caught flak over constituent services but lost the Primary Election to Edwards after a tawdry, relentless drip campaign.

After Edwards defeated Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara in the 2022 General Election, he became the third straight sandwich vendor without so much as a bachelor’s degree to represent WNC in Congress — Meadows claims he owned a sub shop in Florida, while Cawthorn’s only real job before serving in the House was at Chick-fil-A. Edwards owns several area McDonald’s franchises but his legacy in Congress has left some constituents to ask, “Where’s the beef?”

“What we’ve seen Chuck do throughout this year is not focus on our biggest issues, not focus on the opioid crisis, not stay laser-focused on our economy and how we help the folks in Canton and folks around Western North Carolina, not focus on how we solve our biggest problems out here,” Rudow said. “You’ve seen him get sidetracked.”

During his 2022 campaign, Edwards failed to show for a debate hosted by The Smoky Mountain News and Blue Ridge Public Radio after criticizing Cawthorn’s debate no-shows, opting instead to appear only on a corporate-owned right-leaning television network with whom he’d spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising.

Edwards had previously told SMN that if elected, he wanted to move past the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection by shutting down the House Select Committee investigating the situation.

“What happened on Jan. 6 is a threat to our democracy and unless we deal with that, unless we make sure that we deal with the root causes of it and the people who perpetrated it face justice, our democracy is going to continue to be threatened,” Rudow said.

In January, Edwards hired Macon County activist/journalist Brittney Lofthouse as an aide, but fired her in short order after complaints from his constituents about her support for the LGBTQ+ community. 

In February, SMN informed Edwards of trouble at the Pactiv Evergreen paper mill in Canton, when one of the mill’s four machines was idled by management. Edwards refused to interview with SMN at the time. A month later, the mill announced it would shut down completely, and Edwards refused to tell SMN what, if anything, he’d done in the meantime to prevent the loss of around 1,000 good-paying union jobs. 

In March, when decades of inaction by Congress to adequately fund the National Park maintenance backlog resulted in the implementation of a parking fee at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Edwards  refused to interview with SMN about what, if anything, he’d done to prevent the cost from being passed on to visitors. 

In April, when the “Back off Our Benefits” tour rolled into Asheville and asked Edwards to pledge to protect Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and veterans’ benefits, Edwards ignored them, just as he’d done the previous October.

At a town hall focusing on the impact of the Canton mill closing in June, Edwards again refused to answer questions posed by SMN about what, if anything, he’d done to save the mill after being informed of the situation by SMN a month before the closing was announced. Instead, Edwards responded by saying he’d only speak with media outlets that give him favorable coverage.

“I really reserve the right to respond to those media outlets that I’ve been able to build good relationships with that have reported the news fairly,” Edwards said at the time, without citing any examples of unfair reporting. “I didn’t respond to that question and I’m not gonna respond to this.”

At that same meeting, Edwards heard criticism from constituents when, in response to a question about how Buncombe County could help with the impact of the mill’s closing, Edwards ridiculed Asheville’s problems and refused help.

“I’d suggest the best thing that the folks in Buncombe County could do to help Haywood County is to fix Buncombe County,” Edwards told the crowd. “Clean Buncombe County up, get the needles off the streets, get a DA in place and prosecute criminals to reduce crime and not allow the spill over into our haven over here.”

Rudow, who was part of a simultaneous meeting in Candler discussing the same issue, took note.

“What you saw Chuck do there was, instead of taking that moment and providing real leadership, you saw him take that moment to score a few political points,” he said. “That is beneath the stature of a congressperson to do that, frankly.”

In September, Edwards threatened to withhold federal highway funding from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a sovereign tribal government, after voters there decided to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. Some, including SMN, decried Edwards’ meddling in tribal affairs. Also in September, Edwards sent a field representative to Murphy to present an award to a fringe law enforcement group that has ties to white supremacy, espouses COVID-19 conspiracy theories, embraces election denialism and advocates the thoroughly debunked “sovereign sheriff” movement.

In October, Edwards was notably absent when a Waynesville native and Vietnam-era serviceman missing in action for more than 50 years was returned to his hometown for burial. Edwards was stuck in Washington, D.C., because of the leadership fight caused by his own party when members ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and spent three weeks fighting with each other over who would eventually serve.

In November, after the North Carolina General Assembly gerrymandered congressional maps to change a 7-7 partisan balance to an 11-4 map in favor of Republicans, Edwards announced his reelection bid. His district changed little from 2022, moving from 55% Republican to 56% Republican.

“I think there’s a trend in a lot of this, which is Chuck Edwards taking his eye off the ball, off of our biggest problems,” Rudow said. “Instead of working together with folks across the aisle on solutions for folks who lost their jobs at the Canton paper mill, he wanted to take a cheap shot.”

A consistent wedge issue that Republicans have exploited in previous races is firearms regulation. Rudow said he’s tried to reach across the aisle in the General Assembly but hasn’t gotten anywhere.

“This is a dichotomy that the GOP keeps pushing, which is that Democrats want to take your guns away. We do not,” Rudow said. “What you have in the GOP is a party that has been controlled by the NRA and corporate gun lobbyists. Every time something happens, I’ve tried to talk to Republicans and be like, ‘Look, this happened again, can we please do something? I think we can all agree on some common-sense gun safety regulation, that everybody can agree that there are some people that shouldn’t have guns because they’re dangerous.’ But even if you don’t want to deal with that, let’s at least talk about the mental health crisis.”

The nation’s mental health crisis, whether combined with illicit drug use or not, has also not been addressed.

But there is one issue that Edwards didn’t have to deal with during his previous campaign — the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Rudow lived in Israel for three months and is the only Jewish member of the N.C. House, but he also thinks that countering Russian aggression in Ukraine is part of the United States’ overall obligation to defend democratic values.

“Big picture, I think we’re seeing a world in which if America retreats from the world stage, things get worse, not better,” he said, noting that he supports continuing aid to Ukraine. Israel, however, is a far more nuanced topic.

“I think with a lot of these international issues, the thing that I tell people is that we need to think about what we can do here, right now, and some of that is talking to each other, having better conversations and reducing the polarization,” he said. “We cannot expect folks across the world to make peace with each other if we can’t even sit down and do that here.”

The candidate filing period for 2024 election runs from Monday, Dec. 4 through Friday, Dec. 15. No other Democrats have yet filed to run for NC-11. The Primary Election will be on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, with the General Election on Tuesday Nov. 5.

To learn more about Rudow, visit

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