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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.

Hagan/Tillis Debate: 'Noticeably Sharper'

Liz Bowles
UNC-TV via Twitter

Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and her challenger, state Speaker of the House Thom Tillis faced off in their second debate Tuesday night. The questions ranged from what to do about the violent Islamic State group to both candidates’ records in Washington and Raleigh. Hagan and Tillis’ exchange was noticeably sharper than it was in the first debate.

The candidates plunged right into front page news and foreign policy with the first question posed moderator, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. He asked whether the candidates support President Obama’s current plan to fight the Islamic State, or ISIS. Hagan, who had the first turn, said the group should be eradicated. But she supports having a broad coalition of partners in the region to achieve that goal.

The 2nd U.S. Senate Debate. 10/7/14
Credit UNC-TV
The 2nd U.S. Senate Debate. 10/7/14

"It has to be a unified front," said Hagan. "And I think when I see what Speaker Tillis has done- he is waffling on these issues. He is spineless on these issues on what he would to to take ISIS out. I have been clear, I have been decisive, but I think we need to hear what Speaker Tillis would do."

Instead of explaining whether he agreed with the president’s plan, Tillis immediately attacked it by connecting the rise of the Islamic State group to the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq:

"Senator Hagan and President Obama- this is a policy that needs to be on the ballot in November. They have failed the American people and they’ve made our nation and the world less safe and less secure. They’re coming up with a strategy to solve a problem that they largely created."

Later in the debate, when it came time for the two to ask each other questions, Tillis circled back to the subject of ISIS. He asked Hagan why as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee had she missed half of the group’s meetings. Hagan began her answer by addressing George Stephanopoulos.

Hagan: "Let me  clarify something George, I am not on the Foreign Affairs Committee, I serve on the Armed Services Committee."

Tillis: "I stand corrected. May I ask were you not there for 50 percent of those meetings?"

Hagan: "George, I’m on the Armed Services Committee."

Tillis: "I understand your question."

Hagan said she’d been well briefed on the subject of the Islamic State group, while Tilis continued to refer to her attendance record at committee meetings.

Same-Sex Marriage

Another timely topic brought up in last night’s debate was same-sex marriage. Stephanopoulos started by mentioning the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week to let lower court rulings stand that struck down marriage bans in five states. Tillis said he still supports banning same sex unions:

Tillis: "I feel it’s my responsibility after sixty percent of the people voted that into law to defend the laws of the state."

Tillis was referring to the state constitutional amendment passed in 2012 that bans same-sex marriage. Sixty-one percent of voters approved the measure. When it came time for Hagan’s turn, she said she opposed the amendment.

Hagan: "I do not think anyone, including the government, should tell somebody who they love or who they can marry. Speaker Tillis put Amendment One on the ballot in North Carolina. He actually said he had to put it on the ballot in a May primary because it wouldn’t have passed in November."

That prompted a broader exchange between the two. Throughout the debate, Hagan took aim at measures supported by the state legislature while Tillis has served as Speaker of the House.

Hagan: "A hundred percent of the time, Speaker Tillis’ policies have hurt North Carolina, gutted education, killed an equal pay bill, no Medicaid expansion, that’s what he says as being effective."

Tillis: "Ninety-six percent of the time Senator Hagan’s voted with President Obama, and President Obama says when you vote in the November election, that you’re voting with his policies."

Tillis strove to connect Hagan’s voting record with President Obama no less than ten times throughout the debate.

The candidates also touched on a number of other subjects, including the Affordable Care Act, Ebola, teacher pay, and equal pay for women. Later this week, they’ll have a third opportunity to debate the issues. Their third and final debate will be held in Wilmington on Thursday.

Did you miss the debate? Watch it here:

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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