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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

First Hagan-Tillis Debate Tonight; What To Watch For

Courtesy of Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis

Senator Kay Hagan and Speaker Thom Tillis meet in Raleigh tonight for their first televised debate. Political debates can make or break candidates no matter the office, and this one comes when polls show the candidates are in a statistical tie.

Both Hagan and Tillis have spent the last few days preparing for tonight’s oratorical prizefight. That’s why we asked the press secretary from both camps to help us with the pre-game. Meghan Burris is with "Team Tillis," Chris Hayden is with "Team Hagan."

The first issue both camps have to deal with? The latest polls show they’re in a dead heat, so both Tillis and Hagan need to start building momentum. And the most reliable way to create that daylight is by attacking your opponent’s record.

Team Tillis says they’re targeting "Veterans issues, immigration and Obamacare."

As for Team Hagan, they’re zeroing in on Tillis’s role in the education budget "He’s never answered for the budget gimmick that could raise class size."

All this means North Carolina voters are likely to hear a lot about two unpopular political towns. "It may actually turn out to be a debate between who's worse, Washington or Raleigh," says Michael Bitzer a political scientist with Catawba College. "The big question for both campaigns is, who is ultimately going to show up this fall?"

In off-year elections, that’s historically that’s been the Democratic and Republican base, and that has pitfalls as well. Bitzer says Tillis and Hagan have to make sure their attacks rally their own supporters without causing a backlash. "If you go out and attack me," explains Bitzer, "my supporters will say you can’t say that about our candidate," and, in turn, be more likely to vote come November.

Tonight at 7 p.m. we’ll be able to see which candidate wins round one of their debate.  Round two is scheduled for October 7th.