NC’s US Senate candidates agree to meet for three debates; one wants even more

Jim Morrill

In one of the nation’s most competitive races, North Carolina’s two major U.S. Senate candidates have agreed to three televised debates before November.

Democrat Cal Cunningham confirmed the three on Friday. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis had challenged him to even more.

“We’re excited to announce that we have accepted invitations to participate in statewide, televised debates with Nexstar, WRAL, and Spectrum News,” Cunningham campaign manager Devan Barber said in a statement. “Cal is looking forward to holding Thom Tillis accountable for his record . . . “

So far none of the meetings has been scheduled.

Debates had been a point of contention in the race.

In January, weeks before Cunningham won his party’s nomination, Tillis challenged the primary winner to a series of debates. “Bring it on, Thom,” Cal Cunningham replied at the time.

On Monday Tillis’s campaign touted its acceptance of four televised debates. Cunningham still had not accepted any invitations.

“We’re glad that after months of ducking, Cal Cunningham has finally agreed to debate Senator Tillis,” campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said Friday. “Additionally, we look forward to accepting another opportunity in either July or August so that Cal Cunningham can live up to the promise he made in January to participate in a debate prior to the fall.”

North Carolina’s is one of only four races across the country rated a toss-up by the Cook Political Report and other analysts. It could be pivotal in determining which party gains control of the Senate. Democrats need four seats for control, or three if there’s a Democratic vice president to break ties.

Usually it’s challengers who press incumbents to debate, hoping for the free exposure of a televised encounter. But the National Journal reported this week that Tillis is one of three GOP incumbents who are pushing for debates. Along with Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, he’s considered one of his party’s most vulnerable incumbents..