GOP Lightning Rod Madison Cawthorn Gets Married on the Anniversary of 2014 Car Accident
It's been a busy few months for Rep. Madison Cawthorn, one of the youngest congressmen in history, who took office in January and became a lightning rod as much for his personal controversies as for his political style.
On Saturday, in a celebration not entirely separate from those headlines, the 25-year-old North Carolina lawmaker married Cristina Bayardelle.
In social media posts, the young Republican said marrying Bayardelle, an Instagram fitness influencer, was "the greatest honor, privilege and adventure of my life."
"My fiancé actually picked that date," Cawthorn told PEOPLE last year. "I was in a car accident on April 3 [seven years ago, leaving him partially paralyzed] and so that's obviously a very sad day for me where I'm really morose. She decided to choose the date of April 3, so it kind of changes that history in my mind — to where it's not my saddest day, it's my favorite day."
Cawthorn and Bayardelle tied the knot during an outdoor ceremony in Hendersonville, North Carolina, taking their vows in front of a gigantic wooden cross.
The couple celebrated their marriage "surrounded by so many friends and family," the congressman said.
"The energy was electric," the wedding DJ, The MillionDollaMan, wrote on Instagram afterwards. Both Cawthorn and Bayardelle shared their own videos from the ceremony, showing guests dancing and celebrating together.
Cawthorn didn't miss the opportunity to take a political jab at his Democratic rivals, however, saying in his statement: "I ran for Congress because Cristina and I didn't want to raise a family in the America many on the left seek to create."
"I am supremely confident that with Cristina by my side, we can push our nation forwards, towards a better future for our children and their children," Cawthorn said.
The conservative lawmaker is seen by some as a future GOP star. But he has been the subject of both personal and political criticism since he won a heated race against Democrat Moe Davis to represent North Carolina's 11th Congressional District.
Cawthorn, who was an inspirational speaker, congressional staffer and real estate investor, surprisingly won his primary over the Donald Trump-backed pick last summer and went on to an easy victory over Davis.
While Cawthorn styled himself as a fresh face for conservative principles, he also embraced the style of the party under President Trump. (Republicans "have the right values, they just don't know how to convey them in a way that makes sense," Cawthorn told PEOPLE last year.)
In January, according to TIME, he wrote to colleagues that "I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation."
He has already drawn much backlash, including for a racist campaign statement about Sen. Cory Booker and voting to overturn the November election despite no evidence of widespread fraud.
Immediately after his historic win on election night, Cawthorn tweeted: "Cry more, lib." Soon after, he expressed regret.
In an unusual episode earlier this year, a close friend spoke out to say that Cawthorn had publicly misrepresented the 2014 crash that paralyzed him. (Cawthorn typically uses a wheelchair.)
In mid-January, a North Carolina sheriff who endorsed Cawthorn subsequently pulled his support and said Cawthorn helped "incite" the deadly Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol after speaking at a "Stop the Steal" rally promoting Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud.
Cawthorn later said he "probably would have encouraged more peace" but said he didn't regret his speech.