Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., left, speaks as Libertarian Party Senate candidate Sean Haugh, center, and North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis listen during a live televised debate at WECT studios in Wilmington, N.C. on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014.
Gerry Broome/AP

National security fears dominate North Carolina debate


Shadowy foreign threats marked North Carolina’s debate between Senator Kay Hagan, Republican Thom Tillis, and Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh on Thursday as the candidates sparred over the rise of the Islamic State and an ongoing Ebola outbreak.

Tillis attacked Hagan early and often on Thursday for admitting to reporters after their previous debate that she once skipped an Armed Services hearing in order to attend a fundraiser. “Apparently Senator Hagan thinks that a cocktail fundraiser hosted on Park Avenue by a Wall Street executive is a bigger priority than doing her job in Washington,” Tillis said in the opening minutes.

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Hagan in turn called Tillis “spineless” for not delivering his own clear strategy for ISIS and said she supported airstrikes and arming moderate Syrian rebels as well as new legislation to authorize military action. Tillis called her “shameless” for missing hearings and said the onus was on her and President Obama to demonstrate leadership on the issue.

“Senator Hagan’s asking the Speaker of the House of North Carolina to come up with a strategy before she has,” he said.

Viewers got a very different perspective on the issue from Haugh, who was appearing in his only debate.

“We need to stop all war and stop spending more money than we have,” he said. “Those are the two main issues that motivated me to get in this race.”

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When it came to the Ebola scare, Tillis said Hagan and Obama “have no plan” and that “were not safe and secure.” He took credit for suggesting earlier that the administration block travel from affected countries.

“When I saw this threat emerging I called for a ban,” he said. “I think it takes courage to say ‘Folks, we got to get this situation under control until the CDC can convince us that people are not going to come to this nation and threaten our safety and security.’”

Hagan noted that the government had recently mandated temperature screenings for passengers at airports receiving flights from affected countries. “Travel bans should be part of this overall strategy, but it can’t be the only part,” she said. 

Ironically, it was the libertarian who expressed perhaps the most confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle the situation, saying he would consult with CDC experts to determine the best course.

RELATED: Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis spar over education, ISIS

Addressing another recent development in the news, Hagan faulted Tillis for using taxpayer money to defend North Carolina’s ban on same sex marriage in the wake of federal court rulings that are likely to invalidate it soon. Tillis said he was “disappointed” in the court’s decision, but couched his support for the gay marriage ban primarily as his responsibility to the public, which passed it by referendum. “I swore an oath to uphold the laws of the state of North Carolina,” he said.

Recent polls show Hagan holding a small lead over Tillis. 

Ebola, ISIS, Kay Hagan, North Carolina and Thom Tillis

National security fears dominate North Carolina debate