© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
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.

U.S. Senate Debate? More Like A Battle of Talking Points


The idyllic vision of political debates is that they serve as an opportunity for the candidates to share their thoughts and ideas on issues of public policy, to engage with their opponents and clearly delineate where they stand from the other side and how they would impact public policy.

While we had a ‘debate’ of sorts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings between incumbent U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and challenger Thom Tillis, what we really got was a gloves-off slugfest of aggressive talking points. In other words, a no-holds brawl rather than a debate.

It started with the opening salvos, otherwise known as the opening statements, with both Democrat Hagan and Republican Tillis slinging their all-to-familiar talking points against one another: “96 percent with President Obama” versus “education cuts, education cuts, education cuts.”

In the first debate, both candidates were sizing each other up and not sure where to land the punches. But a month later, when both came out swinging at the very opening, it was like a feeding frenzy crowd circling around two fighters and yelling, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

And Hagan came loaded for bear. Perhaps having the ever-so-slight lead in the polls gave her more confidence. Usually we see the candidate who is trailing in the polls become the more aggressive in the debate, but Hagan appeared much more comfortable on the attack.

At times, Tillis seemed to rely too much on his talking points: the constant repetition of 96 percent and regulatory burden got burdensome after the first half hour. But his responses were obviously geared to shoring up his conservative base, while appearing to deliberately cast off of a middle-of-the-road moderate appeal.

Tillis’ had two notable flubs. He failed to answer a very pointed question by George Stephanopoulos what policy stance he would disagree with his own party. He also stumbled on gay marriage inevitably becoming the law of the land in North Carolina. 

For her part, Hagan was trying to be too cute in some of her answers Tuesday evening, most notably a not-so-memorable use of the state’s toast in her closing remarks and throwing back at Tillis the line of him failing the state 100 percent of the time. 

When Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh was introduced into the mix Thursday night, there was more than just the folksy “howdy” to break up the talking-points monotony between Tillis and Hagan.

For the most part, Haugh’s responses to the questions balanced almost equally between stealing potential support from both Hagan and Tillis. On social issues, especially gay marriage, Haugh’s libertarianism would have appealed to Democrats, while his fiscal and Washington-has-too-much-power rhetoric would have certainly received appreciation from Republicans.

It would be surprising if the needle moved any after these last two debates. Tillis needed to inject some energy into what appears to be stalled campaign. In the end, he seemed to be fighting to reinforce his base, and that’s not a good thing with a month to go before the final electoral fight.

If any partisan voter was out there, they were probably whooping and hollering that their candidate landed that one-two punch right in the jaw. For any undecided voter out there, they were probably thinking, when is this over?

Three more weeks, folks. But the good news is, we can then start worrying about 2016.