A Viewer’s Guide to the N.C. Senate Debates

A preview of the upcoming NC Senate debate between Senator Kay Hagan and Speaker Thom Tillis

By Kyra Noonan – October 7, 2014 | Print this article

Political debates aren’t scripted, but the candidates usually come armed with some familiar talking points.

To help you sort out the truth in the talking points in this week’s debates for the U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina, the Duke Reporters’ Lab has compiled a viewer’s guide from fact-checking done in the past year by WRAL-TV, PolitiFact, the Washington Post FactChecker, FactCheck.org and McClatchy.

The debates are being held tonight and Thursday, with Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis tonight and Libertarian Sean Haugh joining them Thursday.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos will moderate tonight’s one-hour debate, which starts at 7 p.m. on TV and radio stations throughout the state. It will be streamed live at http://abcnews.go.com/live. On Thursday, the debate will also be held at 7 p.m. and broadcast on TV stations around the state.

Below are some of the lines and subjects you might hear, with links to the fact-checks. We’ve also posted a full list of all the fact-checks in the race so you can browse and search them.


In the past few weeks, the candidates have attacked each other about the rise of the terrorist group known variously as ISIS, ISIL or the Islamic State. Hagan has said Tillis has dodged questions about how he’d respond to the group, while Tillis has said Hagan is out of touch on the issue because she missed so many meetings of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In one Tillis ad, the narrator says, “In January, President Obama refers to the Islamic State as a ‘JV team.’ Days later the Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on new global threats. Sen. Kay Hagan? Absent. In fact, Hagan’s missed half the Armed Services Committee hearings this year.”

PolitiFact checked Hagan’s attendance and found that Hagan had attended nine of 22 public meetings. It was not possible to determine if she attended the closed hearings, so PolitiFact rated Tillis’ claim Mostly True.


The biggest state issue in the campaign has been education, with Hagan and teacher groups attacking Tillis about teacher pay, while Tillis has claimed that he’s boosted education funding.

A TV ad from Women Vote, an arm of EMILY’s List, a political action committee that supports Democratic womenwho favor of abortion rights, said that Tillis “cut almost $500 million from education, causing crowded classrooms and forcing teachers to pay out-of-pocket for school supplies, while Tillis protected tax breaks for yachts and jets.”

PolitiFact checked the claim about the $500 million education cut and rated it Half True. The Washington Post’s FactChecker gave the claim a rating of “2 Pinocchios” and said that EMILY’s List “exaggerates the extent and impact of reductions in state funding for education last year – while ignoring the fact that the education budget is being bolstered this year”.

Obamacare/Health care

Denying CoverageOne of the largest issues both nationally and in the North Carolina Senate Race has been Obamacare. Tillis has claimed there would be a loss of jobs due to the Affordable Care Act, while Hagan and pro-Democratic groups have said that Tillis supports a plan which would make it difficult to obtain health care.

An ad by Patriot Majority USA, a pro-Democratic social welfare group, said in an ad that Tillis “sides with health insurance companies. He’d let them deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and raise rates for women needing mammograms. Tillis supports a plan that would end Medicare as we know it and force seniors to spend up to $1,700 more for prescriptions. Thom Tillis, he’s with the special interests, hurting North Carolina families.”

PolitiFact checked the claim that tillis would allow health insurance companies to “deny coverage for preexisting conditions” and rated it Mostly True. WRAL Fact Check gave this claim a “provisional yellow light”, as Tillis has yet to “fully articulate” his position on health care.

As for the claim that Tillis supports Paul Ryan’s plan that would “end Medicare as we know it”, PolitiFact rated it Mostly False on its Truth-O-Meter. PolitiFact said that “while Tillis has acknowledged supporting aspects of Ryan’s budget plan, he hasn’t specifically said whether or not he supports the original Medicare provision that would have made significant and mandatory changes to the program.”

Lost JobsIn response to Hagan’s support of Obamacare, Tillis has repeated a Republican talking point in an ad that the “Congressional Budget Office estimates 2 million lost jobs due to Obamacare.”

Fact-checkers have found that to be wrong. The Washington Post Fact Checker reviewed the report by the CBO and found that the “loss of jobs” was not stated, and could not have been given a numeric value, earning the claim a rating of “Three Pinocchios”. FactCheck.org also checked the claim and found that while “it has been a popular Republican talking point, it’s innacurate”. The CBO said more than 2 million people will “decide not to work, or will decide to work less, due to the law.”


To portray Tillis as out of touch with ordinary North Carolina voters, liberal groups have made a fuss about tax breaks for yachts and “private jets.”

The Senate Majority PAC ran an ad against Tillis that said, ”Speaker Tillis gave tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations, even kept breaks for private yachts. He raised taxes on 80 percent of North Carolina.”

The Washington Post FactChecker reviewed the claim and gave it 3 Pinocchios finding that, “35 percent of the people appear to face a tax increase, including some of the wealthiest people in the state–not 80 percent, all at the bottom.”WRAL Fact Check checked the claim and gave it a “red light”. Politifact rated the claim by the Senate Majority PAC as “False”. And FactCheck, org writes that “…the ads’ central claim — that Tillis passed a whopping tax increase that hit 80 percent of North Carolinians” — is wrong.'”

A similar claim that said Tillis “gives tax breaks to yacht and jet owners” earned a False from PolitiFact, which said the group suggests Tillis created the tax breaks, but the law had been around for 23 years and Tillis just left it unchanged.

Hagan’s voting record

As the general election nears, candidates have tried to position themselves as moderates who can appeal to voters from both parties, with Hagan claiming that she is “the most moderate senator in the nation.”

WRAL Fact Check found this claim to be true backed by a National Journal report, and gave it a “Green Light”. McClatchy said, “”In February, the National Journal did rank her as the Senate’s ‘most moderate’ member’” but noted that “critics argue that the rankings are subjective, determined by the votes the Journal chooses to analyze.”

Tillis, meanwhile, has countered that in 2013, “Hagan voted with Obama 96 percent of the time.”

McClatchy found Tillis’ statement to be true and wrote “In 2013, the most recent year analyzed, Hagan voted in line with Obama’s preference 96 percent of the time.” WRAL gave this claim a “green light.”