Four of the candidates vying to win the state’s Republican U.S. Senate primary appeared in their second debate last night. In the half-hour forum, aired live on WRAL-TV, state house speaker Thom Tillis, Army veteran Heather Grant, Baptist pastor Mark Harris and ob-gyn Greg Brannon touched on a variety of issues, from immigration to the Affordable Care Act. But the candidates seemed to agree on most of the issues.
WRAL’s venerable anchor, David Crabtree, kicked off the debate with a topic that’s near and dear to many Republicans on the campaign trail these days:
"I wanna begin tonight with the Affordable Care Act. Let’s pull this out and take a look at it."
Crabtree noted that all the candidates believe the ACA should be repealed, but then he asked what specifically would they replace it with to offer health insurance to people who’ve already signed up. Thom Tillis, who worked for years as a consultant before turning to politics, said encouraging competition among health care plans and opening up more high risk pools should be part of the solution:
"And the typical kinds of things you can do can be private sector based though you don’t need government run health care."
Mark Harris, the former head of the state Baptist Convention, had an answer that was similar.
"We’ve been saying it consistently across the state. Expand health savings accounts, allow folks to purchase state plans across lines, building the competition as has been said, " said Harris.
Heather Grant and Greg Brannon’s answers were not too different either.
"What we have to look at when we’re replacing it is the free market system.," said Grant. Brannon's response: "Prices go down, quality goes up. The free market is the answer."
Last night’s debate was a departure from the first one held at Davidson College on Tuesday night, where tension flared between Brannon, the tea party favorite, and Thom Tillis, the establishment front runner. Last night’s less exciting candidate forum may symbolize the problem the candidates have in this race- getting enough of a lead to overcome the possibility of a runoff. Tillis did make sure to criticize Democratic Senator Kay Hagan, but otherwise, all the Republican candidates seemed oddly unified. When it came to a question about immigration, they echoed variations of a theme spoken by Pastor Mark Harris.
"We have been saying consistently across the state that there is no other conversation to have about immigration until you number one secure the border," said Harris.
When asked about federal regulations and job growth, the candidates agreed that they favored fewer regulations. A question on climate change prompted answers with responses like “false science” from Tillis and this from Greg Brannon:
"Climate changes every day. And you talk about that for years. Does a human being affect it? The answer is no- the literature’s clear on this."
Numerous scientific groups disagree with Brannon. But for now the Republican candidates are in agreement with each other- and that may be a problem in the eyes of voters, who begin going to the polls today in early voting.