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Republican U.S. Senate Candidates Take Aim At Each Other

Republican U.S. Senate candidates
Jessica Jones

The primary race between Republican candidates running for the U.S. Senate was center stage last night. In a debate held by UNC-TV, Baptist pastor Mark Harris and obstetrician Greg Brannon sharpened their attacks against state House speaker Thom Tillis.

Baptist pastor Mark Harris took aim at Tillis just a few minutes into the debate. He started by raising the Republican fear that it could be difficult to dislodge the Democratic incumbent, Senator Kay Hagan.

"Last time I checked, the purpose of a primary is to choose the candidate that is going to be able to defeat Kay Hagan this fall, and for me I believe it is so critical that we have someone that is electable," said Harris.

And then Harris proceeded to explain why he should be that candidate:

"There are two individuals on this platform tonight who carry with them baggage that I believe Kay Hagan will use to rip them apart, we have one candidate who did not support Mitt Romney over Barack Obama and at the same time had a lawsuit for misleading investors."

The candidate Harris was referring to is Greg Brannon, who urged people not to vote for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. And a jury recently found him civilly liable for misleading investors in a technology startup. The other individual Harris was referring to was Thom Tillis, the front runner in the race. For his part, Tillis invoked Senator Kay Hagan’s name in as many answers as possible, as he did in this reply to a question about the Affordable Care Act.

"We need to look at healthcare solutions that are patient centered, that depend primarily on the free market, that address things like high risk pools, that address the ability to buy health insurance over state lines, and increase competition, not stifle innovation and all the things Kay Hagan did when she voted for Obamacare," said Tillis.

The moderator of the debate, Kelly McCullen, noted that all four of the candidates are opposed to Obamacare and want to repeal it. When it came time for Greg Brannon to answer McCullen’s question about what healthcare with conservative principles should look like, Brannon made sure to criticize Tillis.

"He actually said Obamacare has some good ideas we just can’t afford it. He actually had a plan for a state exchange but the state Senate stopped that. I actually went back and read Obamacare it took me five months to read it."

Brannon, who is the tea party favorite and loves to quote the Constitution, also made sure to get his Constitutional reference in too:

"Article One Section Seven Clause One, puts the power of the purse string in the House, they de-fund it."

Tillis hit back against Brannon, saying he fought the Affordable Care Act as Speaker of the state House. But it’s hard to say how the criticisms these three men have for each other will potentially affect voters. The front runner, Thom Tillis, will need to capture at least forty percent of the vote in order to avoid a runoff. The only candidate who didn’t put the others down was Army veteran Heather Grant.

"Well, I just wanna say, thank you all for being here, thank you for having us on this evening, like I said before, this is not about me being the next senator," said Grant.

Instead, Grant said, it’s about electing lawmakers who will work to make North Carolina better. But top Republicans in the state who support the front runner, Thom Tillis, may be getting nervous about the race. Governor Pat McCrory and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are expected to endorse Tillis at an event later this morning.

Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.
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