ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C. — GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Democratic challenger Kay Hagan took aim at each other's legislative records Saturday as the two candidates met for the first time on the same stage.
Following them was the first gubernatorial debate between Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, which drew out some differences on education and crime prevention.
All four candidates won their respective primaries last month.
"We have not been tough on crime in North Carolina because we're arresting the same people over and over and over again," McCrory said at the annual meeting of the North Carolina Bar Association, blaming current state government – of which Perdue is a part – for the problems. "We have got to end this cycle."
Perdue said the state could be doing a better job, pledged to keep a closer eye on sexual predators and backed passing racketeering laws to stop gang activity. She said she also embraces community prevention programs to keep the children of current prisoners from winding up there, too.
"I'm going to be tough on crime but smart on the solutions," she said.
More pointed accusations came during the Senate forum, held at an oceanfront hotel in Carteret County. Hagan criticized Dole's five-plus years in the Senate for accomplishing little and adding to the public's frustration with the federal government.
Dole has not done anything to lower $4-a-gallon gas or enough find a solution to immigration reform, Hagan charged, adding that she was too closely aligned with President Bush.
"North Carolina families are so frustrated because the Washington politicians have stopped working across the party lines to get things done in this country," Hagan said. "When it comes to Sen. Dole and her 40 years of experience in Washington, experience just means a way of doing business."
Dole said she has done many things for North Carolina during her first term in office and argued that Hagan makred her tenure in the state Senate with voting to raise taxes and failing to prevent North Carolina from becoming a haven for illegal immigrants.
"My opponent claims she has an 'energy plan,' but the only octane is in the rhetoric," Dole said. "It offers nothing that will lower the price of gasoline."
Dole said she worked with Democrats – including New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton – and talked about passing the tobacco growers' quota buyout and protecting North Carolina military installations during the latest round of base closings.
"It's a record I'm very proud of," Dole told the audience of a few hundred attorneys and judges.
The governor's forum was generally more cordial, but Perdue and McCrory got in some digs on each other's platforms and campaign histories.
Perdue said she would push to expand Gov. Mike Easley's program that would let students attend college debt-free, but McCrory said he would not seek Perdue's additional plan to make the first two years of community college free, because taxpayers would still pay for it.
"There is no such thing as free," said McCrory, who backs shifting more resources to vocational training.
Perdue made a veiled reference to McCrory in her opening and closing statements about how as governor she is "not going to be distracted with experiments like vouchers and private school tuition."
Perdue said they hurt the public schools and do not give families all the money they need to get a private education.
After the debate, McCrory acknowledged his support of vouchers but said his top priority would be to get the Legislature to remove the current 100-school cap on charter schools.
"I'm an advocate of as much choice as possible for parents, for students and for teachers," the mayor said. "I am open to anything which will reverse the current trend of the school dropout rate." About three in 10 ninth-graders do not graduate within four years, according to state data.