Image courtesy WRAL
The four leading candidates in the Republican U.S. Senate primary were largely in agreement during a half-hour debate at the studio of WRAL-TV in Raleigh on Wednesday night.
As moderator David Crabtree posed questions, and tried to pry more specific answers from the candidates, the GOP contenders varied little when it came to their views on the Affordable Care Act, illegal immigration, the economy and climate change.
“The Affordable Care Act is a disaster,” N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis said. He called for repeal of the law, while touting Republican plans to reduce health-care costs through increased competition by allowing citizens to purchase insurance across state lines.
Heather Grant, a nurse from Wilkes County, also said she wanted to repeal the health-care law, while proposing state-base regulations to allow patients with preexisting conditions to receive coverage.
“There is no federal function for health care,” Wake County physician Greg Brannon said. He said Congress should de-fund the Affordable Care Act and echoed Tillis’ argument of increasing competition among insurance providers.
Charlotte pastor Mark Harris also expressed opposition to the federal health-care law and called for its repeal. “Expand health savings accounts, allow folks to purchase their insurance across state lines, put an end to the frivolous lawsuits,” Harris said in response to Crabtree asking how he would help Americans obtain health insurance without the Affordable Care Act.
The candidates were also generally unified in their opposition to illegal immigration.
“For me, the people who have crossed into this country without due process have committed a criminal act, they are criminals,” Grant said. “We should not reward them in any way, shape, form or fashion. If they are caught, we deport them.”
“I don’t believe that I have yet sensed in our country the political or moral will to round up 12 million, if that’s the number that you choose to say, and to send them in one fell swoop and deport them,” Harris said. “However, there is really no other conversation to have about immigration until you, number one, secure the boarder, but then number two, enforce the laws we currently have in place.”
Also on Wednesday night, the candidates were able to give a fuller response than they had at the first televised debate the evening previous at which each said a simple “no” after being asked if they believe in man-made global warming.
At the WRAL debate, all four conceded that climate change is occurring but expressed skepticism that humans contribute to the phenomenon.
Tillis accused incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and President Barack Obama of using the issue of climate change as a “Trojan horse for their energy policy.”
“They’ve got a war on coal, they’ve got a war on traditional energy,” Tillis said. “And they’re trying to use it as a tool, I think, to put fear in people so that they can weaken our position internationally, weaken and reduce our options for reducing the costs of energy, which damages jobs and causes a whole list of problems out of this false science.”
“Climate changes everyday. Does a human being affect it? The answer is no. The literature is so clear on this,” Brannon said. “When you and I were kids Time magazine said it was our new ice age, 15 years later, now we’re over heating. It’s a way to control carbon, and David, you and I are made out of carbon.”
Unlike the debate on Tuesday night, Brannon refrained from attacking the frontrunner Tillis during the WRAL debate, instead focusing on his belief in constitutional limits to the role of the federal government.
For his part, Tillis turned most of his responses into criticisms of Hagan, including his closing statement.
“I’m running for the United States Senate because Kay Hagan has failed the citizens of North Carolina,” Tillis said. “She failed the citizens of North Carolina when she was in the state Senate, and for the last three years I’ve been cleaning up her mess.”
Hagan’s campaign was quick to respond to the attacks from Tillis, releasing a statement just minutes after the debate concluded.
“No matter which Republican emerges, it will be a candidate that supports the special-interest agenda that has already proven to be disastrous for middle-class families under Thom Tillis’ watch in Raleigh,” Sadie Weiner, the Hagan campaign’s communications director, said. “This election is a clear contrast between Kay’s record of fighting for North Carolina families and Republican candidates who are bought and paid for by special interests.”
It remains to be seen what, if any, impact Wednesday night’s debate will have on the crowded Republican field, which includes four other candidates not invited to participate based on their low polling numbers. A survey released by Time Warner Cable News found that viewers who tuned in for its Tuesday night debate said there was no clear winner.
Early voting for the May 6 primary kicks off Thursday across North Carolina. A third and final Republican senatorial debate will be broadcast by UNC-TV on Monday.