Research Triangle Park, N.C. — Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and state House Speaker Thom Tillis, her Republican challenger, come into Tuesday's U.S. Senate debate amid a news cycle filled with much different headlines than when they first debated more than a month ago.
Foreign policy issues have come to the forefront on the campaign trail and in the nightly headlines, joining health care and education among the issues the candidates have most often had to address lately. When they first met, the candidates were neck and neck; now, weeks of polls show Hagan with a slight lead over Tillis.
Hagan's and Tillis' second debate will be hosted by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters and will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. on WRAL-TV and WRAL.com. The third and final debate is later this week and will include Libertarian Sean Haugh.
Here are five questions going into Tuesday's head-to-head match-up.
1) Will they answer the questions?
During the first debate, the candidates largely recited well-honed talking points rather than responding to questions or interacting with one another. Will moderator George Stephanopoulos, an ABC News anchor, be able to keep the candidates on point, or will policy questions beget answers that quickly turn into attacks on either President Barack Obama or leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly?
2) Will they have the foreign policy answers?
Senate candidates wage foreign policy battles Both Hagan and Tillis cut their teeth working on domestic issues such as health care and education. Foreign policy is in neither one's wheelhouse. Will Hagan or Tillis be able to convince voters that they have the answers to the spread of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria or Russia's incursions into the Ukraine?
3) How will the recent "scandals" figure into the debate?
The two campaigns have pilloried one another with opposition research meant to persuade voters that their opponents are not trustworthy.
Tillis' camp has pointed to a Politico story that showed Hagan's husband's business benefited from federal stimulus payments and records showing Hagan missed half of her Senate Armed Services Committee headings.
Hagan's folks have been touting another Politico story that shows Tillis is heavily invested in a bank that benefited from the federal stimulus, and they have pointed to a Huffington Post story that purports to show a link between Tillis' ownership of a trailer park and his actions in the General Assembly.
Will candidates leave this back-and-forth to their surrogates and allies or bring these stories into the debate?
4) How will they handle the Ebola question?
Now that Ebola patients are being treated in the United States, what policy prescriptions will the candidates offer up? Beyond talking about suspending flights from certain countries, how will the candidates say the United States should brace for the virus?
5) Will there be "a moment?"
As much as campaigns hope their candidates do well during a debate, they are also on the lookout for a flub by the opposition, something they can use in the days following the debate to rile the base. After the September debate, Democrats and their allies pointed to Tillis using Hagan's first name throughout the night as a sign of disrespect. Will there be a moment or verbal tick that partisans can seize on tonight from either candidate?
Bonus question: There's no guarantee this will come up, but the candidates' responses to this question would be interesting: As you know, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed court rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans in several states to stand. One of those rulings will likely allow same sex couples to marry in North Carolina. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas says he will propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitutional amendment to protect state marriage laws like North Carolina's. How would you vote on such an amendment, and why?