Hagan, Tillis stick to scripts in first debate

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Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganDemocratic National Convention event calendar 10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2016 Senate Republicans are feeling the 'Trump effect' MORE (D-N.C.) and her opponent, North Carolina Speaker Thom Tillis (R), hewed closely to their talking points in their first Senate debate, with Hagan hammering Tillis on education and women’s issues and Tillis relentlessly tying Hagan to President Obama.

The two candidates, locked in a tight race in what could be the tipping-point battle for Senate control, repeated attacks that have already been backed by millions in advertising as they sought to define one another as outside of North Carolina’s mainstream.

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Hagan accused Tillis of favoring the wealthy over the middle class, saying in her opening statement that he’s “fought for policies that are taking our state backwards,” while Tillis used Hagan’s own words against her, pointing out that she criticized then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) in a 2008 debate for voting with President George W. Bush more than 90 percent of the time before doing so herself while in the Senate. 

“Kay Hagan has voted with President Obama 95 percent of the time,” he repeated a handful of times throughout the debate, saying at one point the only independence he’d seen from Hagan is “from the citizens of North Carolina.” 

Hagan fired at his record on education spending, attacking him for cutting funds for the University of North Carolina system and accusing him of failing to help improve public education in the state.

“We need to respect our teachers and we need to pay them. We have seen an exodus of teachers under Speaker Tillis's tenure,” she said.

Tillis pushed back on the attacks, touting a 7 percent teacher pay increase he helped usher through the statehouse this summer as evidence Hagan is misleading on the issue. 

“That's reality, that's math and that's something Kay Hagan needs to accept,” he said. 

Hagan hit back.

"This has to do with math. I'm insulted by his comment. I was a vice president of a bank," she said. "What I really value are our math teachers in the state and Speaker Tillis doesn't."

He blasted her for voting for ObamaCare and also sought to separate Hagan’s attacks on his support for employers being able to decide whether or not to cover birth control by arguing for “lower cost alternatives and broader access,” including over-the-counter sales, a similar move to what Rep. Cory GardnerCory GardnerTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense Behind the scenes on Day 2 of the Republican convention Lobbyists bolting Trump convention early MORE (R-Colo.) made in his own Senate race shortly after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling. 

Tillis is now the fourth GOP candidate to back over-the-counter birth control, joining Gardner, Ed Gillespie and Mike McFadden.

He once again declined to say whether or not he’d support increasing North Carolina’s minimum wage after saying he believes it should be left to the states to decide, instead pivoting into an attack on Hagan, saying the policies she backed were making it harder for middle-class voters to get ahead.

Hagan focused on her breaks from other Democrats, touting her splits with Obama on free trade and her wish that he’d backed moderate Syrian militias in the early stages of that country’s civil war. She also touted her work on military issues, looking to insulate herself from Tillis’s attacks on the Veterans Affairs agency's ongoing problems by pointing to her work helping veterans who’d served at Camp LeJeune.

“I am the most moderate senator in the nation,” she said, touting National Journal’s 2013 ranking in an echo of an earlier campaign ad.

The debate is unlikely to move the needle in the hard-fought race — there was little news said by either candidate that hasn’t already been on the airwaves, and in North Carolina’s expansive and expensive media markets television and ground efforts are likely to win the day. But the debate highlighted the stark differences between the candidates.  

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