Senator Kay Hagan outperformed her Republican opponent Thom Tillis and Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh during North Carolina’s third and final debate for the Senate race, on Thursday night. Hosted by WECT and sponsored by the League of Women Voters, this debate was the candidates final chance to reach a large block of voters.
The addition of Haugh added a new dynamic, but the focus was on Hagen and Tillis.
From the beginning of the hour-long debate, Hagan used the opening statement to clearly state her views on the issues and defend her record. Conversely, Tillis followed the GOP’s generic approach to this election campaign. He attacked Hagen and the President but avoided, at all costs, stating his policy alternatives.
The question and answer section began with a discussion on ethics. Earlier in the week, ethics complaints were filed against both candidates, alleging that both of them benefited financially from the votes they cast in the Senate and the House. In Hagan’s case, the complaint alleged that her husband’s business benefited from the stimulus package. Hagan said categorically “I’ve had no role in my husband’s business.” Before pointing out that Tillis voted to benefit from his investment in a bank.
In a moment of irony, Tillis accused Hagan of reciting talking points, while using Republican attack dog talking points. Once again, Tillis dodged when asked to identify the policy areas where he departs company with the Republican Party’s leadership. That infers that he wouldn’t part company with the leadership on anything. The inference is strengthened by the fact that Tillis relied on the Republican Party’s formula for candidates’ debates of running on a platform of attacking the President and the candidate while dodging questions and avoiding disclosure of policy alternatives at all costs.
A striking example is seen in the discussion on ISIS. Hagan restated her view that U.S. needs to use airstrikes and keep American ground troops out of the fight. Conversely, Tillis used the occasion to attack Hagan’s attendance record at Armed Service Committee records, without offering a policy alternative.
During the discussion on Ebola, Hagan outlined a comprehensive approach in which a travel ban would be part of the strategy of boots on the ground for logistics and building better healthcare facilities in affected countries as well as training and developing treatments for the disease. Hagan also noted, if needed, North Carolina is “well prepared” to deal with a potential Ebola outbreak.
After saying Hagan’s plan wasn’t a plan, Tillis depended on the standard Republican formula of fear mongering and calling for a travel ban.
“We’re not safe and secure. We’ve got to get this situation under control, we’re not ready.”
When the discussion turned to same sex marriage, Tillis relied on populist rhetoric to justify his opposition to marriage equality. It was clear that Tillis really didn’t want talk about this issue when he could use the opportunity to recite a litany of GOP talking points including the debunked claim that Obamcare will cost jobs. It really got interesting when he went on yet another tangent to claim the state’s cuts in education weren’t really cuts. Then Tillis launched into a screed in defense of his vote suppression law.
Senator Hagan’s approach to the question showed she had a far better grasp of the issue and that she wasn’t ashamed of her opinion on the subject of marriage equality. First, she said very directly that she opposes the state’s ban on same sex marriage. Hagan used the opportunity to remind voters that Tillis is going to waste tax dollars defending the ban despite developments at the Supreme Court. Earlier this week, the Court refused to hear cases brought by several states seeking a reversal of lower court rulings that marriage bans are unconstitutional. She went on to discuss the economic costs that go with a ban on same sex marriages.
Haugh said he also opposes the marriage ban before launching into a discussion of the lawmaker’s role in upholding the constitution rights of everyone.
During a discussion on income inequality, Hagan hit Tillis hard for his opposition to the minimum wage and his opposition to pay equity. Hagan’s decision to remind voters of Tillis’ opposition to pay equity had to hurt because Hagan has a solid lead over Tillis among women.
Tillis stuck to the standard GOP talking points of deregulation and blaming Democrats for unemployment. He avoided answering the question of what the candidates thought is a fair wage and if the minimum wage should be raised. Once again he resorted to Republican mythology and fear mongering with the claim that a minimum wage increase would cost jobs and hurt the economy. By this point in the debate, Tillis’ use of the GOP debate formula was getting old fast.
The debate included a discussion on energy and dredging. Hagan used the opportunity to attack Tillis’ record on fracking.
“Tillis has made it a crime to disclose the fluids used in fracking,” Hagan said, referring to the passage of a law that opens the door to hydraulic fracturing in the state.
“I think we’ve got to be sure that we protect our water and we protect our coastal economies,”
In a nod to corporate interests including the Koch brothers, Tillis ranted about the EPA being “out of control” but then he said the Federal government falls short on dredging.
The last phase of the debate was closing statements. Tillis’ final appeal to the voters of North Carolina conformed to the formula of pretending that the American dream is attainable with hard work, attacking Obama, calling Hagan a part of the establishment.
Hagan began her closing remarks with important information about the election. She reminded voters that Friday is the deadline to register and that early voting ends on October 23. She reminded voters that Tillis still can’t (or won’t) name a single issue where he parts company with the Republican leadership. Hagan used the opportunity to say that governing involves reaching across the aisle to get things done. She closed with a sentence that summarizes the difference between her and Tillis: it is not how you grow up, but how you treat people.
There weren’t any knockdown punches, nor were there any surprises. Hagan continued to show voters that she cares about the issues that matter to North Carolina by answering the questions directly while Tillis dodged. Hagan showed a comprehensive understanding of complex issues, while Tillis stuck to GOP talking points filled with jingoistic phrases. On the rare occasion that he ventured into policy, Tillis parroted the same simplistic ideas offered by Republicans across the country.
Most importantly, Hagan showed leadership ability. During the discussion on marriage equality, Hagan defended the constitution and the constitutional process, while Tillis emulated other Republicans by placing ideology above everything – including the U.S. Constitution.