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Stories and features about North Carolina candidates, voters, and the politics of the 2014 mid-term elections. Polls are open across N.C. until 7:30 p.m. on election day, November 4.

U.S. Representative Renee Ellmers and Clay Aiken Spar In Debate

U.S. Representative Renee Ellmers, Clay Aiken
Jessica Jones

Republican U.S. Representative Renee Ellmers of the Second Congressional District and her challenger, Democrat Clay Aiken, held their first and only debate in Pinehurst Tuesday. The hour-long event covered topics ranging from Islamic State militants to the Affordable Care Act, and it was contentious.

The debate was held at Pinehurst’s historic Carolina Hotel, with WRAL’s David Crabtree as the moderator. His first question was about foreign policy- whether the candidates support President Obama’s actions against the group known as the Islamic State. He also asked if the candidates would support sending in ground troops. Aiken, whose turn was first, said he’s behind the president’s plan, but that other countries in the region should pitch in.

"I don’t believe the US should be policing the entire world," said Aiken. "And I don’t want to use our men and women at Fort Bragg or any of the men and women serving in the military here in the US as GI Joe soldiers where we place them in harm’s way all around the world to police the problems of others."

Ellmers said she also supports the president’s plan. She called the Islamic State “the most brutal heinous group we’ve ever seen.” And she went on to say it threatens this country domestically. When pressed by David Crabtree, Ellmers said she thinks the U.S. could do more to stop the group overseas.

"We do need to be in the world, we have to show a presence of strength to keep peace," said Ellmers.

"If called on to vote," asked Crabtree, "would you vote to send American ground troops there?"

"I would," said Ellmers.

That sparked the first of several contentious exchanges between the two.

Aiken said Ellmers had not supported sending ground troops to fight the Islamic State Group previously- until U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner recently said on ABC’s This Week that sending ground troops may be necessary.

"Congresswoman Ellmers went on the record not too long ago saying that John Boehner was her boss and that you don’t want to upset the boss, and so I understand if that’s her mindset then that’s probably why she’s changed her tune now," Aiken said.

When asked whether the U.S. can depend on its Arab allies in the region, Ellmers circled back to the topic of John Boehner:

"John Boehner may be the Speaker of the House, but the people of Distict Two are my boss, and that is exactly why we’re here today."

The two then started talking over each other, with Ellmers making a jab at Aiken’s previous career, which took off after he was the American Idol runner up more than a decade ago.

"And this is one of the things that maybe as an entertainer you’re not aware of- these things are fluid- and when the president asked for his support- he asked for it in a certain way- we gave him that support," said Ellmers.


Ellmers continued bringing up Aiken’s career in the next topic- Fort Bragg, an important part of the Second Congressional District. Aiken pointed out that Ellmers voted for last year’s sequestration, which resulted in temporary budget cuts at the base. He also said she didn’t work hard enough to keep the 440th Airlift Wing at Fort Bragg.

Ellmers responded by saying the cuts were prompted by President Obama’s budget, and called Aiken an entertainer again.

Aiken responded: "Congresswoman Ellmers is good at her talking points, good at calling me an entertainer, that’s great, I’m sure you practiced on that. But the most embarrassing reality show right now in the country is Congress."


Later in the debate, the conversation moved to Obamacare. Ellmers said she and other Republicans would like to reform the program. But Aiken said Ellmers had voted to get rid of it many times. He noted that Republican Senator Richard Burr had co-sponsored a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act with a set of market-based reforms, rather than simply voting against it.

Aiken: "You said to David just a few minutes ago that yes, you had voted to repeal it several times."

Replied Ellmers: "We have voted a number of times...and Senator Burr is in the Senate. I’m not sure you understand that he’s presented it to the House. I think you’re confused at how the process works."

Aiken responded: "I’m not confused, I’m well aware of civics."

This was the first and only debate between Representative Ellmers and Clay Aiken. There are no more scheduled before the general election on November fourth.

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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