A 24-year-old has defeated the candidate endorsed by US President Donald Trump to become a Republican Party nominee in North Carolina.
Motivational speaker Madison Cawthorn, who nearly died in a car crash six years ago, jumped at the chance to succeed representative Mark Meadows when he announced he would not be running in the forthcoming US election.
Mr Cawthorn, who now uses a wheelchair because he is partially paralysed, defeated the candidate endorsed by both Mr Trump and Mr Meadows, who is now the president’s chief of staff.
He has built a strong following with a compelling story, a libertarian-style of politics and hopes to attract millennial voters.
— Dan Forest (@DanForestNC) June 24, 2020
“We just have a much more compelling message that resonated with people,” he told The Associated Press after his victory over Lynda Bennett.
Mr Cawthorn, who reaches the constitutionally-mandated minimum age of 25 to serve in the House of Representatives on August 1, would become one of its youngest members in US history if he wins the general election in the Republican-leaning 11th District against Democratic nominee Moe Davis and others.
The youngest current member of Congress, Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, is 30.
Mr Cawthorn beat Ms Bennett on Tuesday, even though she had won the most votes in the original 12-candidate primary in March and had support from the political arms of the House Freedom Caucus that Mr Meadows once led.
While Mr Cawthorn got support from a campaign group run by allies of senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, supporters said it was his ground game and personality that helped him win.
Merry Guy, chairwoman of the Republican Party in Henderson County, where Cawthorn lives, said: “Madison connects with people. He listens to them and people like him. It’s not magic.
“When you talk about life experience, he’s gone through a lot of things none of us hopefully ever have to go through.”
Nominated by Mr Meadows himself for a Naval Academy appointment, Mr Cawthorn was 18 when he was critically injured in 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida, after a car he was in struck a concrete pylon.
Now paralysed from the abdomen down, Mr Cawthorn has started a property investment company and gives motivational talks.
In an introductory campaign video, the first-time candidate described himself as an eighth-generation resident of the district who also knew how to attract young people to the Republicans.
“I represent an emerging generation of Americans who are tomorrow’s leaders, most of whom think the Republicans don’t care about the disenfranchised, the hurting and those less fortunate. But nothing can be farther from the truth,” he said.
Ms Bennett and Mr Cawthorn had the same conservative platform on abortion and gun rights and both were ardent supporters of Mr Trump, who called Mr Cawthorn on Tuesday night.