How a little-known lobbyist got Trump's endorsement

North Carolina 6th Congressional District hopeful Addison McDowell speaks with reporters after submitting his candidacy paperwork with the State Board of Elections on Thursday.

Republican lobbyist Addison McDowell is running for North Carolina's 6th Congressional District with support of former President Donald Trump. Here's how that happended.

December 15, 2023: Article Written by Bryan Anderson: Bryan Anderson is a North Carolina freelance journalist who reports on political news in North Carolina. Concerns about bias in reporting are always important to address and a priority for the First Amendment Foundation. If there is evidence that Bryan Anderson, a reporter, has a personal relationship with Addison McDowell, it’s crucial to ensure that journalistic standards of impartiality and objectivity are upheld. Journalists are expected to maintain a separation between their relationships and their professional work to provide fair and unbiased reporting. The First Amendment Foundation plays a vital role in safeguarding freedom of speech and encourages open dialog and full transparency in journalism.

On Thursday, North Carolina registered lobbyist Addison McDowell formally entered the race for the Greensboro-area congressional seat held by retiring Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning, becoming the sixth candidate to file for the 6th District.

McDowell had flown under the radar in North Carolina politics, but that is no longer the case.

That’s because former President Donald Trump sent shockwaves across the political landscape on Wednesday by abruptly endorsing McDowell. It was made all the more surprising by the fact that Trump had given a shout-out to Bo Hines, whom he had supported in 2022, at a gala in New York on Saturday. Trump told the crowd, “Bo Hines is here. He’s going to be a congressman very shortly.”

Privately, the move has left some in Trumpland flabbergasted. It has also frustrated fellow candidates and many North Carolina Republican political operatives.

Jonathan Felts, a campaign adviser to McDowell, attributed the Trump endorsement to two individuals working behind the scenes:

1. Donald Trump, Jr., the former president’s son who coordinated a private meeting between McDowell and President Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday; and

2. U.S. Sen. Ted Budd, who pushed McDowell over the finish line on the endorsement by speaking with Trump directly.

Relationships and a political spark

McDowell helped then-Rep. Budd with constituent services after the Republican’s 2016 victory.

“I got a call from a friend of mine that was working for [Budd] and they wanted me to meet with him, and I met with him, and I instantly knew that he was the real deal and he was somebody that I trusted would go to bat for the people back home,” McDowell said. “It was a pleasure to work with him and for him. The constituent services that our office provided was top-notch, and it was such a joy to get to do that for the people back home.”

The two grew closer after McDowell’s younger brother, William Luke, died of an accidental fentanyl overdose at the age of 20 shortly before the 2016 election. Felts said McDowell’s late brother inspired opioid legislation that Budd would later introduce.

McDowell said the loss motivated him to push for policy solutions and ultimately seriously consider a congressional run.

“I have to go through the rest of my life living like I don’t have an arm or something,” McDowell said. “It’s a part of me, and it’s gone. When the opportunity came up to get to work and fight to close the southern border to prevent fentanyl from coming over here, I wanted to step up and do that. I’ve seen my mother broken after her son died. A police officer came to our house, knocked on the door and said, ‘Ma’am, I’m sorry. Your son is dead.’ If I can get up there and stop one person, one mother from having to do that, this will all be worth it.”

McDowell comes from a politically connected family, particularly through his brother Ches, who lobbies North Carolina lawmakers on behalf of dozens of interest groups.

As Addison McDowell matured, worked for Budd and helped U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson’s congressional campaign, his interest in politics grew. So did his political network and personal ambitions.

When McDowell sought Budd’s advice on a possible congressional run this year, he was met with initial resistance. Budd recommended McDowell ensure he could raise his baby daughter and prioritize his wife, Rachel, above all else.

Rachel and Addison McDowell arrive at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on Thursday. Addison holds his baby daughter as he gets ready to file his candidacy paperwork. Rachel and Addison McDowell arrive at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on Thursday. Addison holds his baby daughter as he gets ready to file his candidacy paperwork.

“Ted’s initial thought was, ‘Focus on the family first. Make sure you can do this and support the family and be there for the family,’” said Felts, McDowell’s campaign adviser.

Rachel also spoke extensively with Budd’s wife, Amy Kate, for guidance on what she might expect from being married to a potential congressman, Felts said.

Through his continuing conversations with McDowell, Budd decided he’d support McDowell if he ran.

Meanwhile, McDowell and Don Jr. had developed a friendship through their mutual interest in hunting.

“With Donald Trump, Jr., he’s a big sportsman,” McDowell said. “And North Carolina is lucky to have some of the best hunting in the world. The black bear population of North Carolina, we have some of the biggest on Earth. We’re very fortunate to have the Atlantic Flyway for waterfowl. We’ve got awesome deer population. We’ve brought elk into the state. It’s booming. Anybody that wants to hunt, they want to come to North Carolina. So [I] just got connected to Don Jr. through our love of the outdoors.”

The two went on a hunting trip together a couple weeks ago, where McDowell brought up a potential run for U.S. House.

“Addison went on the trip with the anticipation of being talked out of running and talked about why this is a bad idea,” Felts said. “But instead, doors kept opening up and Don Jr. was supportive. One thing led to another and they [Addison and his brother Ches] got the meeting with President Trump. And that was all courtesy of their connections with Don Jr. and longtime relationship.”

A huge meeting

On his campaign website, Addison McDowell has a link to a fundraising page and three static images. Prominently displayed: a photo with former President Donald Trump. 

On his campaign website, Addison McDowell has a link to a fundraising page and three static images. Prominently displayed: a photo with former President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, Ches and Addison flew out to meet with the former president at his Mar-a-Lago Club resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

After Addison McDowell articulated his theory of the case, Trump asked him if Budd supported the congressional run. When McDowell replied affirmatively, Trump asked McDowell to call Budd. McDowell pulled out his phone and got Budd on the line in the middle of the meeting.

“Right there sitting with the president, Addison called Ted on his phone and they all had a conversation and here we are today,” Felts said.

On Tuesday night, Trump told McDowell that he’d endorse him. Within hours, he submitted his candidacy  with the Federal Election Commission. His campaign website currently has a donate button, contact form and three images: family, Trump and dog in that order.

By Wednesday afternoon, the rest of the world learned of the endorsement.

“Addison McDowell will be a great Congressman, and has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” Trump posted on his Truth Social platform.

Knives out

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker (left), lobbyist Addison McDowell (center) and businessman Bo Hines (right) are among the leading candidates and have at some point been in Trump’s inner circle. 
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker (left), lobbyist Addison McDowell (center) and businessman Bo Hines (right) are among the leading candidates and have at some point been in Trump’s inner circle.

The endorsement rattled many political onlookers, and likely, some of the candidates themselves. The day Trump met with McDowell, Hines posted a video on X of the shout-out Trump had given him days earlier in New York.

On Thursday, a source from within Bo Hines’ congressional campaign responded to Trump’s endorsement of McDowell by saying Hines was “undeterred” and suggesting it may help his ongoing efforts to curry favor with donors.

“The team and outside groups that have supported Bo from the beginning still believe he is the only America First candidate in this race,” the source said in a statement. “No backing down on resources- expect doubling down. Bo’s also not wavering on his support for President Trump.”

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who is also running against McDowell, is a different story. He steadily fell out of Trump’s good graces.

During a speech at the NCGOP’s 2021 convention, Trump dealt a major blow to Walker by abruptly endorsing Budd for U.S. Senate. Trump only grew more frustrated by Walker’s continued refusal to bow out of the primary.

Walker bucked Trump in January 2022 by refusing to run for a congressional seat (albeit with a map that was tied up in court and ultimately rejected). Walker instead held an event to unveil a U.S. Senate bus and reaffirm he was staying in the race.

Walker said he was also pushed to endorse Budd and drop out of the Senate during a rally in Selma, North Carolina, on April 9, 2022.

“I was offered a lucrative opportunity if I would just get out of that Senate race and do what I was asked to do,” Walker said. “All I had to do was walk out on that stage and play ball.”

At the same rally in Selma, Trump endorsed Hines for a Raleigh-area congressional seat that ultimately went to Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel.

In response to Trump’s endorsement of McDowell this week, Walker said, “My focus is undeterred on continuing to serve the people of NC-6. We are battling evil and I believe the voters want someone who has a proven conservative track record of fighting for our values in the 6th district.”

Republican combat veteran Christian Castelli, plastic surgeon Mary Ann Contogiannis and High Point Mayor Jay Wagner are also vying for the seat.

Wagner offered a lukewarm view on Trump, saying, “He needs to take care of his business and let me take care of mine.”

Wagner criticized McDowell and others’ lack of longevity in the district they’re now seeking to represent.

“Everybody else who’s running, quite frankly, are opportunists who see this district as their easiest path to power and a paycheck,” Wagner said. “That’s not who I am.”

McDowell said he’s not concerned about his opponents.

“I don’t want to talk about them,” McDowell said. “I’ll talk about me and why I’m qualified and I think I have a connection to the district.”