Hagan, Tillis Stick To Talking Points During First Live Debate
After some $30 million spent attacking each other’s political records, Senator Kay Hagan and House Speaker Thom Tillis appeared together last night for their first live debate.
The fight for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat is national news, which is why the co-anchor of CBS’s This Morning, Nora O’Donnell, made the trek from New York to Raleigh Wednesday night.
The candidates' placement on the stage was in tune with their political alignment: Senator Hagan on the left, Speaker Tillis on the right.
Polls show they are in a statistical dead heat and the debate was a chance for them to gain momentum and take the lead with just over eight weeks left before the election. It was also a chance for the candidates to introduce themselves to North Carolina voters who know the names but little about them. Tillis spoke first.
"As the speaker of the house, I cut spending, I cut regulations and I cleaned up some of the mess that Kay left behind in Raleigh," Tillis said. "As your U.S. Senator, I’ll go to Washington and I won’t be a rubber stamp for Barack Obama and Harry Reid. I’ll go there and get things done and make America great again."
Then Hagan gave her opening statement.
"Tonight is about presenting voters with a choice on how to move our state forward," Hagan said. "I’ve approached this job with common sense, solving problems in how we can put our middle class first and making the economy work for everyone. But speaker Tillis has different priorities. The wrong priorities. At every opportunity he has fought for policies that are taking our state backwards."
The candidates were asked about the Islamic extremist group known as ISIS, the militarization of local police forces and Obamacare.
On that issue, Tillis attacked his opponent by saying she had promised North Carolinians "if you like your doctor, you can keep them." That, Tillis said, was just one of the law’s broken promises. "Obamacare only gets the books balanced or makes the debt less worse by taking $700 billion away from Medicare to pay for it," Tillis says. "It’s just financially flawed and not sustainable and it will not fulfill the promises. The promises have already been broken. And they’re going to be worse as we go forward."
The claim that $700 billion has been taken from Medicare has been called mostly false by PolitiFact. In response to the "if you like your doctor you can keep them" attack, Kay Hagan blamed insurance companies for the issue. Then she attacked back.
"I think what we need to look at here is that speaker Tillis has denied Medicaid expansion in North Carolina," Hagan says. "That’s 500,000 people that could get coverage. These people still get sick. They go to the emergency room where they’re just getting episodic treatment. And it’s the most expensive care there is. Those claims are mostly true, as Speaker Tillis did help push a bill that blocked Governor Pat McCrory from expanding Medicaid without the General Assembly’s cooperation."
Again and again, one issue was front and center: the effect North Carolina’s recently passed budget has in the classroom. Take this exchange about the teacher pay increase that averages out to 7 percent raise, though some senior teachers will see much less than that:
Thom Tillis: "We need to pay our teachers top salaries and we’re working on that. We’ve done more in this session than has been done in years. We need to add to that but we also need to get the federal government out of the way and stop having them force decisions on these teachers. They know how to educate our children. I know these teachers, they’re great people, they want to do this for these kids, we should let them do it."
Nora O'Donnell: "Senator Hagan, your view on the best way to keep good teachers?"
Kay Hagan: "We need to respect our teachers and we need to pay them. We have seen an exodus of teachers in North Carolina under speaker Tillis’s tenure. In North Carolina education has always been a bi-partisan priority. I wrote state budgets for six years. We invested in education every year. During my six years, teachers got a 21 percent pay raise. Every child, every parent knows the value of a great teacher. Except speaker Tillis."
That 21 percent number is mostly true. The research arm of the General Assembly says the average raise over that time was actually just shy of 20 percent.
Through the hour-long debate, both candidates appeared poised, polished and practiced. They relied more on talking points rather than grand concepts when answering questions. There were no gaffes. This was a debate where both Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan seemed to be playing to their core political base. The only exception was a comment Speaker Tillis made about birth control:
"I actually agree with the American Medical Association, that we should make contraception more widely available," Tillis said. "I think over the counter oral contraception should be available without a prescription."
The next debate for Hagan and Tillis is scheduled for October 7.