The four Democrats seeking to Represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate differed on immigration policy, agreed on most other issues and generally avoided criticizing each other in a televised debate on Thursday night.
Former state Rep. Deborah Ross and Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey said they supported a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country unlawfully, while Kevin Griffin of Durham and Ernest Reeves of Greenville did not support that plan. Griffin outlined a work permit program and Reeves offered “a pathway to stay.”
The Democratic hopefuls agreed on bringing Syrian refugees into the country, provided they pass a comprehensive screening process; tweaking the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislation; and raising the minimum wage.
The only interaction between candidates came toward the end of the half-hour debate. Griffin threw a jab during closing remarks, criticizing Ross for not responding to voters’ comments on her Facebook page. Ross replied that she’s spoken to thousands of voters in person or over the phone.
The debate, held by WRAL-TV and moderated by veteran anchor David Crabtree, is the only Democratic debate scheduled in the primary and the biggest exposure the contenders have received before voters. Ross is the only candidate who has bought television spots.
The Democrats are seeking to replace U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican who is running for his third term. Burr also faces a four-way race for the March 15 primary.
A look at the Democratic hopefuls:
Professional background: President and founder, AVANT Group LLC, a staffing agency
Political experience: First time running for office; has worked with Durham Living Wage Project, Dress For Success
On Obamacare, from the debate: "I signed up through it myself. I'm very happy with my plan. But as a small business owner, I can say the plans are onerous. So we need to clean them up, streamline them, so that more employers can easily adopt them."
Family: Divorced with teenage son
Professional background: Retired Army captain and communications officer (1982-2004); former manager at United Airlines
Political experience: Ran for U.S. Senate against Kay Hagan in 2014, for Greenville mayor in 2015
On the incumbent, from the debate: "Mr. Burr is bad for America, he's bad for North Carolina, he's bad for minorities. He's a 90 percent Republican stamp. He's a rubber stamp.”
Professional background: Executive director of Cumberland HealthNET, a non-profit that coordinates health services for people in Cumberland County who lack health insurance
Political experience: Mayor of the town of Spring Lake in Cumberland County since 2011
From the debate: He wants to be a champion for health care, he says. "To also work with our leaders at the state level to make sure that they are addressing the issues."
Family: Married with three children
Professional background: General Counsel for the GoTriangle transit agency; former state director American Civil Liberties Union
Political experience: N.C. House of Representatives, 2003-2013
From the debate: She supports a bill that would have legalized the status of undocumented immigrants, she says. "That offered a pathway for citizenship for people who had certain background checks, paid their taxes, and followed strict guidelines. That bill also would have secured our borders and reunified families."
Family: Married, no children