Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis took President Obama’s assertion that his “policies are on the ballot” this cycle and ran with it during a debate against incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) Tuesday evening.
Stressing that Hagan voted with Obama “96 percent” of the time, Obama’s name was at the tip of Tillis’ tongue all evening. Hagan, meanwhile hit Tillis on the softer issues that appeal to her base, like education, women’s pay, and student loans.
In one of the debate’s more notable moments, Tillis lit into Hagan on border security issues, linking immigration to the Ebola crisis and ISIS.
“Sen. Hagan has failed the people of North Carolina and the nation by not securing our border. Ladies and gentlemen we have an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors who can come across the border. We need to seal the border and secure it. We need to make it very clear that blanket amnesty is not on the table and then we need to solve for the first time in decades the problem we have with immigration in this country,” Tillis added.
On Ebola, Hagan expressed an openness to go along with Tillis’ call for a travel ban on the countries dealing with Ebola outbreaks but as a piece of a larger strategy.
Although Tillis did not specifically criticize it, Hagan defended her vote for the Senate immigration bill last year, arguing that the legislation was bipartisan and “not amnesty,” she added that she opposes executive actions on immigration reform.
The hour-long debate was the second in the North Carolina U.S. Senate race and was moderated by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. The debate, in one of the most consequential Senate races this year, occurred as Hagan holds a slight lead over Tillis in most polls.
While Tillis was eager to tie Hagan to Obama, she struggled a little to answer whether Obama’s policies are on the ballot, eventually saying “Speaker Tillis wants to make this race about the president, this race is about who is going to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate,” and stressing her moderate record.
“When you vote with the President 96 percent of the time, you’re representing the president’s policies, the policies that are going to be on the ballot in November,” Tillis said.
Stephanopoulos’s questions touched on issues like the ISIS threat, education, Obamacare, Ebola, economy, and immigration.
“There is another policy on the ballot, President Obama said he’s going to wait and do [executive actions on] immigration after the election. We all know he is going to implement amnesty and we all know Sen. Hagan will support it,” Tillis said, stressing the need to secure the border and not do “blanket amnesty.”
The debate, which also allowed the candidate to ask two questions of one another, found candidates dodging each others prompts — including why Hagan missed more than 50 percent of her Armed Services Committee hearings, a question which she did not end up answering.
After the debate Tillis’ campaign manager Jordan Shaw reiterated Tillis’ central message.
“The choice for North Carolina this election is clear. Kay Hagan is a vote for more of President Obama’s failed policies and broken promises. A vote for Thom Tillis is a vote to change direction and make America great again,” he said.
Hagan campaign spokesman Chris Hayden following the verbal sparing further stressed Hagan’s moderate record.
“Despite Speaker Tillis’ best efforts to hide his record, North Carolina’s middle class families know that his actions in the General Assembly have hurt our state,” Hayden said, “Kay once again demonstrated that, as the most moderate member of the Senate, she is serious about working across the aisle to find commonsense solutions for North Carolina.”
Tillis and Hagan will meet again to debate Thursday, but their third debate will feature another player — Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh, who some believe could impact the race with his mere presence on the ballot.