by Jordan Green
1. High stakes
There are stark differences between these two candidates for US Senate — a race that could determine which party holds control of the chamber. In 2008, it would have been hard to imagine Hagan, a business-friendly centrist and former banker, as a populist. But in 2014, with the GOP taking a hard tack towards libertarian, anti-poor policies, any Democrat who doesn’t become a class warrior is squandering a golden opportunity. Kay Hagan took her best shot against her Republican opponent, Thom Tillis, criticizing his tax policies that enriched the wealthy, hurt 64,000 militaries in the state and damaged people’s ability to save and pay for college.
2. 475,000 and 500,000
It was a battle of numbers throughout the debate. Tillis repeated the figure 475,000, referencing the number of people who received cancelation notices from health-insurance companies following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Hagan reminded Tillis that she sponsored legislation “allowing those plans to become permanent,” and that’s what happened. Then she leveled a slightly higher number at Tillis that was harder to dismiss. “I think what we need to look here is the fact that Speaker Tillis had denied Medicaid expansion here in North Carolina,” Hagan said. “That’s 500,000 people that could get coverage.”
3. Dubious certainty
Speaking of health coverage, Tillis tossed out a scary stat that raised a lot of eyebrows. “And incidentally,” he said, “in September and October you’re going to see your insurance rates go up by 11 percent because Kay knows best.” News & Observer reporter Renee Schoof said there were several things wrong with the number: 1) It didn’t come from the state Department of Insurance; 2) the information came from the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity; 3) the AFP’s source, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute actually stated that the increase would be 7.7 percent; and 4) it remains unclear where PwC obtained its data.
4. Tillis’ contraception walk-back
Tillis suffers from a gender gap, with women heavily favoring Hagan in the race. On women’s health issues he’s trying to portray a softer, more centrist approach than he did during the conservative primary scrum. “First I believe contraception should be available — and probably more broadly than it is today,” Tillis said during the debate. “I think over-the-counter oral contraception should be available without a prescription.” After the debate, Politico reported that Tillis had said during the primary “that he supported states being able to ban contraceptives altogether.”
5. Evasion and bluster
Tillis evaded a question about how the United States should respond to ISIS’ beheading of two US journalists, first mocking President Obama for calling the group “junior varsity” and then when pushed, saying the US “needs to take all actions to protect American citizens.” Hagan took the opportunity to demonstrate her independence from Obama, saying, “The president should have weaponized the moderate Syrian rebels earlier. Without doing that, that has allowed ISIS to grow.”
6. Tillis’ raise-up movement
Tillis also evaded a question about whether he believes the $7.25 federal minimum wage is enough, although he characterized any attempts to raise the wage floor as “regulatory overreach.” Hagan said she supports raising the minimum wage. Then, in an effort to deflect, Tillis made a statement that many working poor people would find laughable: “What leader would settle for an economy that’s based on the minimum wage?” he said. “It’s a stepping stone that through education and hard work you should get past very quickly.”
CLARIFICATION: Adam Nicholson, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity says the group accurately cited the Pricewaterhouse Coopers study, which initially stated that insurance rates would go up an estimated 10.8 percent, but when PWC changed its data to 7.7 percent, AFP corrected its information. Americans for Prosperity issued a press release on Sept. 3 reflecting the change.