2020 might be the first year in almost a decade that a Democrat has an opportunity to win North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.
But that Democrat — Moe Davis — is counting on his years of experience to fight an uphill battle against a 25-year-old newcomer, to flip the district that was held for almost eight years by current White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, he will have to carefully navigate the challenging road ahead.
Moe Davis, 61, grew up in Shelby and graduated from Appalachian State University in Boone before getting his law degree North Carolina Central in December of 1982.
Shortly after being admitted to the North Carolina Bar just a few months later, he was accepted into the Air Force, and in October of 1983, Davis left the state en route to some unimaginable destinations.
“My plan was to do four years, but I came back and 36 years later...” he said.
Davis, a retired colonel, joined the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps for the Air Force, and after 11 weeks of training, he was off to work. During his time as a commissioned officer, he worked as defense counsel and a prosecutor and also went back to school to study different elements of the law.
By the time he left the Air Force, Davis said he had about a dozen cases get appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and eventually became an instructor and interim commandant of the JAG training school.
One of Davis’ most interesting assignments was as Chief Prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, especially considering he went there at the height of inquiries into detainee abuse, which brought him into a clash with many in the Bush administration which supported extreme interrogation techniques.
Davis’ final post was as the director of the Air Force Judiciary, which provided oversight for the branch’s military justice system. During his time in, he also received masters degrees in military law and government procurement.
After retiring from the Air Force, Davis spent some time as the director of the Foreign Affairs Defense and Trade Division, a branch of the Library of Congress, and was also a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. before becoming a Department of Labor judge.
“The bulk of the work we were doing was black lung hearings for coal miners, but also toward the end, one was racial discrimination case and there were some labor-related immigration cases and whistleblower cases that were labor-related,” Davis said.
“I was there watching how the sausage got made in Congress,” he added of his time with the Foreign Affairs and Trade Division. “My background in the Department of Labor, seeing judicial side, I have a broad range of experience that would be relevant.”
Especially early on in his civilian career, Davis was sought after as a national security expert, appearing on the likes of MSNBS, CNN and Fox News.
Over the last week, to make an already contentious election even more so, there has been an uproar over Davis’ past derogatory tweets that have resurfaced.
With less than 50 days to go in a red district, Davis can’t afford to give up an inch, but he must also focus courting unaffiliated voters who don’t already have their minds made up. While the tightrope between driving liberal turnout and reaching out to moderates may be tough to walk, in recent days, Davis has had to do so while also dodging incoming fire from the right.
Thanks largely to his appearances on national networks, Davis has built a considerable Twitter following and has become known for being blunt, if not brash, at times.
Davis said he’s frustrated with Republicans portraying Cawthorn as a “new voice” in that party and believes that his opponent is actually just more of the same.
“There’s nothing new about the message he’s putting out there,” Davis said.
However, to win a race that has gained national attention, Davis will have to put in the work and generate the buzz to necessary to raise more funds to get his message out.
“I don’t think there’s any candidate that’s ever said they had enough money, so we’re going to keep pressing on fundraising,” he said.
In addition to raising almost double what Davis had by the last count near the end of June, Cawthorn has also recently gained the support of PACs, which have run attack ads against Davis.
All the same, Davis said that while he’d be happy to get more money for his campaign, fundraising hasn’t been a cause for serious concern.
“There’s never enough but we’re confident we’ll have the funds to get the message out,” he said.
The other side of campaigning is getting out and meeting as many people as possible. Of course, with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down many public appearances, Davis could be at a disadvantage, especially in a district that gets more conservative west of his Buncombe County home, meaning he won’t have as many chances to level with voters out there.
“My experience is when I can meet people face to face the majority leave feeling favorably toward me,” Davis said.
Cawthorn has been hitting the trail relatively hard, appearing at a number of events where photos depict few people wearing masks or observing social distancing requirements and recommendations.
“He has ignored COVID-19. It’s been immature and irresponsible,” Davis said. “They’re still having these mass gatherings with no masks and hugging each other, and I think it’s wrong.”
The best chance voters have had so far to see both Davis and Cawthorn in action has been the three debates that have occurred in the last two weeks. But Davis said he doesn’t expect that the debates will sway a significant number of opinions.
“If you supported him, you probably still do, and if you supported me, you probably still do,” he said.
In a race where it is assumed that Davis is an underdog, maintaining the status quo might be a net loss. While Davis had some strong moments in the debates, during the first go-round, panelist and conservative radio talk show host Pete Kaliner stirred up a fresh pot of controversy by bringing back to light some of Davis’ old tweets.
Perhaps the tweet that’s getting the most notice also came the following month.
- “Screw they go low, we go high bullsht,” that tweet reads. “When @NCGOP extremists go low, we stomp their scrawny pasty necks with our heels and once you hear the sound of a crisp snap you grind your heel hard and twist it slowly side to side for good measure. He needs to know who whupped his ass.”
Once that tweet was brought back up, Cawthorn, whose own social media history has created issues for his campaign, seized on it.
“Tough debates about our records and positions are fair game but advocating violence against those who disagree with you is disgraceful and dangerous,” reads a release sent out by the Cawthorn campaign. “I denounce political violence in any form and encourage my opponent to renounce this statement. The voters of WNC deserve better.”
For his part, Davis owned the tweets.
“Like many Americans particularly over the past four years, I have become upset and enraged by the extremism of the Republican Party and the actions of the Trump administration that continue to incite violence and denigrate our soldiers as ‘losers,’” he said in a statement. “At times, I took my anger out on social media and said things using language that some might find offensive. I apologize if that is the case and offer a simple solution … don’t follow me on my personal Twitter account.”
During the debate at Southwestern Community College, Cawthorn read the “heel stomp” tweet.
“I was going to bring an icy hot patch for my opponent because he’s been clutching his pearls for the last day over the tweet that I put out a year ago,” Davis replied.
Davis added that the tweet came out after the NC-9 congressional election was recalled because of GOP voter fraud and that it was metaphorical.
“Democrats have been too nice for too long,” he said at the debate. “When they go low, we go high.’ They come to a knife fight, and we bring a quinoa salad. That’s got to stop.”
In his interview with The Mountaineer, Davis continued to stand by his tweets. Early on in his campaign, someone brought up the idea of scrubbing his social media, but he said it was “cowardly” to try to erase the past.
“I said then if I said it then I should stand by it,” Davis said.
A concern that comes along with using such strong language against members of the other party is how well Davis may be able to compromise to pass effective legislation.
Davis said because of his experience as an attorney and prosecutor, that will be no problem. In the courtroom, where no matter how contentious things got, he said it didn’t affect either personal relationships or the pursuit of justice.
“It’s like with broadband; that’s an issue that’s huge here that affects Democrats and Republicans alike,” he said.
It hasn’t only been Davis’ language on social media that has ruffled some feathers. In recent weeks, Cawthorn has criticized Davis for what he considers an “elitist” attack on the 25-year-old’s lack of college education.
Davis said he is highlighting his opponent’s lack of overall experience and was even able to point to some of his own work experience prior to going to law school and gaining a commission.
“His only job he’s ever had was working the drive-thru window at Chick Fil A,” Davis said of Cawthorn. “I worked at the Shelby Airport and hauling lumber at Lowe’s. I’ve done the work; I understand the value of hard work.”
Davis pointed out an example that he said highlights Cawthorn’s true appreciation for education and specialized expertise by noting that Cawthorn has been carrying around a black binder full of “talking points,” which he said have been provided by consultants out of Washington, D.C.
“He’s hiring experts to help navigate him how the laws apply,” Davis said.
“Madison now apparently has opinions, but mine have been consistent,” Davis said.
Davis considers his opinions moderate, despite the fact that many Republicans are using a similar attack against him that they are against Joe Biden in the presidential race — an attack that paints the more moderate liberal candidate as a “Trojan Horse” that will implement the policies of the more extreme wing of the party.
“I’ve had a very robust list of issues on my webpage for months,” he said. “For folks who are curious, go the webpage and look at what I’m advocating for.”
Davis said that when it comes to his stance on firearms, he has received criticism from both sides. Davis said he advocates for more stringent limitations on the purchase and possession of “military style weapons.” Basically, he would like to see a higher standard for the ownership of those kinds of firearms, not unlike what is already required for fully-automatic weapons under the National Firearms Act.
“I had a major progressive national group that would have come in with some money, but they wanted an unequivocal ban on those kinds of weapons,” Davis said, although he wouldn’t say which group. “On the other hand, I get an F rating from the NRA.”