“Best in the West: North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District Forum” are a series of two debates across Sept 4-5 between retired USAF Col. and Democratic nominee Moe Davis, against the young rising star of the Republican Party Madison Cawthorn.
Hosted by Blue Ridge Public Radio, Mountain Xpress and Smoky Mountain News, the debates are moderated both nights by award-winning journalist Cory Vaillancourt as it travels from Western Carolina University’s Biltmore Park campus for the first event, then to the main Cullowhee campus for Saturday’s, both of which are being presented via livestream-only due to pandemic-related restrictions.
According to the hosts, the first night of the debate is slated to “include questions from Lenoir-Rhyne University Equity and Diversity Institute developer Aisha Adams, former Asheville Citizen Times political reporter and current Mountain Xpress contributor Mark Barrett and Pete Kaliner, longtime N.C. political reporter, radio host and podcaster. The debate will focus on international, national, state and urban issues.”
Friday’s debate, the first televised between Cawthorn and Davis, was nothing less than a slobberknocker – which the internet helpfully defines as a “violent physical confrontation.”
Conservatives will be happy to know that the younger and less experienced Cawthorn – who entered the debate leading in the polls – managed to stand toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow with Moe Davis who is a more-than-formidable opponent for any aspiring politician of any skill-level. Still, to have no formal education, Cawthorn appeared an effective and clear communicator for most of the debate, and showed up to the performance with a bevy of attacks at the ready, making constant allusion to Davis being a puppet of Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, impugning Davis’s time in the Congressional Research Service, as well as his time as a prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay.
Davis’s performance, in contrast, was very controlled and measured, perhaps lacking in the visible energy that Cawthorn had brought to the table, but with a certain confidence that juxtaposed the frantic eagerness of his opponent.
In the interest of brevity, the entirety of the debate – which can be found at Blue Ridge Public Radio – will not be covered in this article. Instead, the following are some of the more notable moments that occurred over the hour-and-a-half the two nominees sparred.
Aisha Adams: (to Cawthorn) “You have been accused of both sexual assault and having ties to white nationalism…”
Cawthorn: “I won’t lie to you: in high school and after, I did try to kiss a girl – I kissed many girls – and some of my attempts failed. But I believe there is a large difference between a failed attempt versus sexual assault.”
Cawthorn would go on to “categorically deny” any ties to racism.
Cawthorn and the N-word
Davis offered a slew of different examples, all swirling around Cawthorn, that give credence to the theory that Cawthorn supports white nationalism: “SPQR, 88 followers, bucket-list, saying the n-word to friends.”
On this last note, Cawthorn responded that he had used a “Variation of the n-word that ends with -a,” offering a modicum of regret before returning fire on Davis that these personal attacks were a deflection from Davis not wanting to talk about his policy positions.
Both candidates agreed that climate change was a real problem, Davis citing scientific experts and Cawthorn citing a Bible passage calling on all people to be good stewards of the earth.
They differed, however, at what to do about climate change. Cawthorn claims that AOC’s Green New Deal, which Davis supports, would “waterboard our future generations with debt.” Waterboarding, in this sense, appears to be a dogwhistle towards Davis’s time as Chief Prosecutor of Guantanamo, a very complicated subject which will be explored later in the article.
Defund the Police
Moe Davis took issue with the optics of “defund” the police, asserting that the word “Does a huge disservice and is a lay-up for the other side.” He went on to clarify that issues like substance abuse should be a “Mental health issue, not criminal justice.”
Cawthorn responded that “I’m unhappy with how the president treated George Floyd’s death,” but insisted that his opponent secretly believes in a literal interpretation of “defunding the police” and questioned the efficacy of a social worker responding in a situation where one needs law enforcement.
Davis and Guantanamo
Cawthorn made several claims about Davis’s record at Guantanamo, beginning with a quote from Col. Kelly Wheaton that claimed Davis was denied a medal for “service that had not been honorable.” Cawthorn went on to add “I believe my opponent has put himself above service several times” to the military veteran.
Davis fired back that Cawthorn “plays fast and loose with the truth” and went on to note that he was awarded the Legion of Merit award after he retired.
More information on Davis and Wheaton can be found in a 2008 CNN article. Swirling at the center of this controversy was Davis’s position against so-called “enhanced interrogation” tactics of prisoners who were detained by the United States government without fair trial.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi
On the subject of people detained by the US government without a fair trial, Cawthorn accused Davis of defending Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who Cawthorn said was instrumental in planning the 9/11 attacks.
There is absolutely no basis to the claim that Slahi had anything to do with 9/11. Former District Court Judge James Robertson, in a 2010 ruling, noted on Slahi that “associations alone are not enough, of course, to make detention lawful.”
Slahi would be freed in 2016 after 14 years in Guantanamo. His memoir can be found for free at http://guantanamodiary.com/
Davis and the Congressional Research Service
Related to Davis’s time as prosecutor at Guantanamo, though not immediately obvious on the surface, Cawthorn makes the claim of Davis that “He was fired from the Congressional Research Service because he broke their rules, which are very clearly outlined, and then, when he was fired, he was sued by [them].”
Davis noted that “the Congressional Research Service didn’t sue me, I sued them, and won.”
A 2016 Intercept article follows the case which was based around Davis’s freedom of speech in two different editorials concerning Guantanamo. Davis emerged victorious and was awarded $100,000.
Cawthorn’s Nomination to the Naval Academy
Davis pointed out that Cawthorn was rejected from the academy before his accident, instead of because of his accident as many have assumed.
Cawthorn clarified that “When it came to my nomination to the US Naval Academy, I contacted Congressman Meadows’s office, and he said there must have been something wrong with my nomination and that [he] would work on it, so I was still awaiting my acceptance at the time of my accident.”
The “Best in the West” debate series concludes Sept. 5 at 7:30pm, live streamed on www.facebook.com/blueridgepublic. Saturday’s panel includes “WCU Political Science and Public Affairs Department Chair Chris Cooper, WCU Professor of Economics and Director of WCU’s Center for the Study of Free Enterprise Edward Lopez and Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians” and will feature questions on indigenous issues and education.