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No knockouts, no gaffes: Beasley and Budd debate for first and last time in Senate race

Cheri Beasley and Ted Budd debated Friday night on Spectrum News.
News and Observer/AP Pool pool photo
Cheri Beasley and Ted Budd debated Friday night on Spectrum News.

Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd met Friday night for their first — and only — debate before next month’s election for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat.

The candidates discussed inflation, abortion and the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. Neither candidate made a memorable gaffe that will be replayed in commercials by the other side, and neither Beasley nor Budd landed a knockout punch on the other.

The first topic was inflation — a challenge for Beasley, or any Democrat running this year.

Spectrum News’ Tim Boyum asked her twice if she would have voted for all of the stimulus and spending packages proposed by the Biden administration.

“You know I can tell you when we were in the middle of the pandemic and the economy was about to tank the stimulus really did help a lot of folks in North Carolina,” Beasley said. “It made the difference in their lives.”

Beasley did not address more recent spending packages that the GOP has said pushed inflation higher.

The next topic, however, put Budd on the defensive: abortion.

The congressman co-sponsored a nationwide abortion ban after 15 weeks, and he also opposes exceptions for rape and incest.

But in the debate he was reluctant to go there.

“She’s accused you of supporting a total ban with no exceptions, would you support that?” Boyum asked.

Budd pivoted, saying Beasley and Democrats do not want to limit abortion at all. He would not talk about exceptions for rape and incest.

“So when (Democrats) put forth the women’s health protection act, which is an awful bill, I will counter that. But beyond that, I just want to save unborn lives, I want to save lives,” Budd said.

Beasley later said that she wants to make the standards in Roe vs. Wade a nationwide law, and she is okay with some abortion restrictions late in pregnancy.

Beasley was asked why she hasn’t campaigned with Biden administration officials during the campaign — and whether she is avoiding them.

She then avoided that question.

“We’re glad when the president comes to visit,” she said. “We want him to hear about the challenges here and about the success and to meet wonderful people who are here.”

Budd tried to talk about President Joe Biden as much as possible, often saying that Beasley, who formerly served as Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, would be a “rubber stamp for the president.”

He was asked about his ties to former president Donald Trump, who endorsed him during the Republican primary. Budd embraced the controversial ex-president.

“He endorsed me because I’m an America First candidate,” Budd said. “And I believe in things that led to that 1.4% inflation.”

Beasley fired back.

“The reality is Congressman Budd has aligned himself with someone who is truly extremist in this race,” she said. “And that’s a reflection on him.”

Budd also said that he believes Biden is the legitimate president. He also said that in an interview with the Associated Press in Fall 2021.

While Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham had three debates two years ago, it was unclear if there would even be one debate in the Budd-Beasley race. Budd declined to participate in GOP primary debates. And he turned down a proposal to debate on broadcast TV.

It took both campaigns several rounds of negotiating to even agree to this appearance, which was on cable TV and a Friday night, when likely fewer people were watching as opposed to a work night.

While the candidates often sidestepped questions, there was one question they both definitively answered: whether marijuana should be legal.

Budd went first, saying “I am not a supporter of legalization, especially for recreational marijuana. If someone can prove to me there is a case for medical marijuana we can have that conversation.”

Beasley said legalization could help reduce disparities in the criminal justice system and to give North Carolina farmers a boost.

“There are a whole host of reasons that legalizing cannabis can work very well here in North Carolina,” she said, then stating specifically she supports legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana.

The two candidates also differed on the filibuster. Beasley said she would end it. Budd said he would not.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.