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Second debate solidifies roles

Posted April 23

— The four front-runners in North Carolina's U.S. Senate Republican primary broke little ground and threw few punches Wednesday evening during a debate sponsored by WRAL News.

Instead, for the second televised debate in two nights, Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon, Wilkesboro nurse Heather Grant, Charlotte pastor Mark Harris and state House Speaker Thom Tillis appealed to their respective constituencies going into the early-voting period, which begins Thursday. 

Brannon, a tea party favorite, repeatedly referred to the U.S. Constitution, calling the separation of church and state a "fallacy" that "is not anywhere in our founding government." Likewise, he vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act: "There is no federal function for health care," he said.

Harris, who helped lead the successful 2012 campaign for a North Carolina constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions – the last such amendment passed in the United States – promised voters he would show "character, consistency and courage" in the Senate. "Make sure you pick a U.S. senator that will represent your values and principles," he said. 

Tillis, whose campaign is backed by national Republican leaders, including former President George W. Bush adviser and strategist Karl Rove, reminded voters of his accomplishments in the state legislature, linking recent regulatory reform to a drop in the state's unemployment rate. He spent much of his allotted time attacking President Obama and incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.  

Grant, whose constituency is less clear-cut, reminded voters of the country's tradition of citizen legislators and said her experience as a nurse practitioner gives her insight into the complex issue of health care reform. 

More alike than different 

Still, the four had many more similarities than differences on policy questions from "Obamacare" to immigration reform to climate change. 

All four said they would repeal the Affordable Care Act and said they would rely on more robust health savings accounts and competition within the private insurance industry to replace the coverage the law has helped provide to millions of Americans who signed up. 

All four rejected the concept of a "path to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Brannon, Harris and Grant agreed the country should deport the entire group, estimated at some 12 million nationwide. Tillis said law enforcement should start with the "15 percent who are bad actors" but didn't voice support for mass deportation of the rest.

All four doubled down on assertions that climate change is not man-made, despite the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists disagree with them.  

The four said the same thing in a debate Tuesday night, and their responses drew national media attention. Moderator David Crabtree gave them the chance to clarify or expand on their responses.  

Tillis called it "false science," accusing liberals of "trying to use it as a Trojan horse for their energy policy – they’re trying to use it, I think, as a tool to put fear in people."

Brannon went further: "It’s a way to control carbon, and David, you and I are carbon."

Harris and Grant said the federal government shouldn't play a role in addressing the problem, whether it's man-made or not. 

No clear winner

"I thought everybody sort of held their ground," William Peace University Political Science Department Chairman David McLennan told WRAL News. 

"It was sort of an unusual debate in that they agreed with each other so much, and there was no attack – not even a veiled attack – on Thom Tillis," he said. "I don't think the undecided voter is going to look at this debate and make up his or her mind."

With time ticking down to election day May 6 and one televised debate remaining, McLennan predicted one of the candidates might yet decide to shake things up. 

"Whether it's Grant or Brannon or Harris, they've got to differentiate themselves as the person who can face Tillis," he said. "There's going to be a risk-taker among the group. Either in the next debate or in ads or a combination of the two, someone has got to stand out. It's not just about spouting conservative ideas"

57 Comments

This story is closed for comments. Comments on WRAL.com news stories are accepted and moderated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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  • jwbmom1965 Apr 28, 12:52 p.m.

    Brannon is a wonderful caring person. I am a die hard democrat and I can tell you, I know him personally and his whole family and he is definitely the best person for the job.

  • free2bme Apr 28, 10:38 a.m.

    Kay Hagan's win is looking easier and easier. These folks have no clue and are still stuck on repealing ACA. What world does Brannon, Harris, Tillis, and Grant live. I guess Fox world. Tillis will likely win the primary so still Hagan's re-election is looking better every day. All Tillis actually wants people to believe that he magically reduced the UE rate in one year.

  • jdlewis76 Apr 28, 9:31 a.m.

    If anyone is undecided this late in the game, they don't need to vote.

  • tmstubbs63 Apr 25, 1:37 p.m.

    Hagan is gone.....bye, bye

  • Smilester Apr 25, 11:03 a.m.

    If these are the Republican candidates I think Hagan's seat may be safer than has been speculated. This is a true clown crew straight from Barnum & Bailey. I am actually thinking about voting for Tillis. I figure that if he is in the Senate he can do far less damage to NC from Washington than he has done this past year in the state Senate. It is sad that I am thinking that way but really he can do a lot more damage in the State senate than in the US Senate. I have not been happy with Hagan at all but if these are my options other than her I doubt I can actually vote for any of them once all is said & done.

  • veryfrustrated1 Apr 25, 9:53 a.m.

    Together Senator Burr and Senator Tillis can move North Carolina forward and help this state to... View More

    cooldela1966

    Together Senator Burr and (God forbid) Senator Tillis will move North Carolina... View More

    — Posted by goldenosprey

    I see that you are still working from your handbook.

    saul alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" - (pg 10) "A Marxist begins with his prime truth that all evils are caused by the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists. From this he logically proceeds to the revolution to end capitalism, then into the third stage of reorganization into a new social order of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and finally the last stage -- the political paradise of communism."

  • goldenosprey Apr 25, 8:41 a.m.

    Together Senator Burr and Senator Tillis can move North Carolina forward and help this state to... View More

    cooldela1966

    Together Senator Burr and (God forbid) Senator Tillis will move North Carolina backward and help their out of state corporate overlords realize full profit potential at the expense of the working families of North Carolina.

    Fixed that for you.

  • cooldela1966 Apr 25, 6:13 a.m.

    Yes indeed. The second debate has solidified roles.

    And the role for Thom Tillis is as it always was: The only Republican with a chance to unseat Kay Hagan.

    Thom Tillis has proven that he is by far the only candidate to face Kay Hagan in the general election. Thom Tillis is a proven leader, a true conservative and the best person to stand beside Senator Richard Burr.

    Together Senator Burr and Senator Tillis can move North Carolina forward and help this state to realize its full potential.

    It is time to be realistic. It is time to support Thom Tillis.

  • danielcorell Apr 24, 7:59 p.m.

    @Grand Union - You left the end of his statement out on your rebuke.

    "If the parents are not legal, neither should the off spring be legal. If that one law was changed, you would stop the flood."

    Typical leftist tactic.

  • sisu Apr 24, 6:33 p.m.

    HEELSROCKNU APR 24, 7:51 A.M.

    The Moderator was terrible...trying to inject reality into the debate. That was a clear demonstration of what's wrong with the media. Instead of delusions they like to force science.

    There. Fixed it for you.

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