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NC GOP Senate candidates face off as early voting begins

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From left to right: Tillis, Grant, Brannon, Harris, CREDIT: WRAL From left to right: Tillis, Grant, Brannon, Harris, CREDIT: WRAL
RALEIGH, N.C. - The four top-polling North Carolina Republican candidates for U.S. Senate debated on Wednesday night in Raleigh, the night before early voting was set to begin. 

The primary is May 6, but voters can start heading to the polls on Thursday.

During the half-hour debate, which was produced and broadcast by WRAL, State House of Representatives Speaker Thom Tillis of Charlotte said he was leading a conservative revolution in Raleigh, cutting regulations and taking credit for falling unemployment numbers.  Tillis faces challenges from three opponents who currently do not hold elected office.

Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon, Wilkes County nurse practitioner Heather Grant and Charlotte minister Mark Harris.

For 30 minutes, Tillis saved his attacks for the one candidate who was not on stage, mentioning Hagan by name at least five times, trying to link the incumbent to her support for Obamacare and addressing climate change.

The candidates answered questions on the economy, healthcare reform and religion's role in politics.

"This whole fallacy of a separation of church and state is nowhere founded in our founding documents," Brannon said.

On immigration reform, the candidates said undocumented immigrants should not get special treatment.

"Their housing is a huge cost to us.  Their Medicaid is a huge cost to us," Grant said.  "Stop funding them there and take that money and fund it to take the ones that we find and send them back home."

When pressed by the moderator, Brannon said he supported deporting every person who entered the United States illegally, regardless of the financial cost to the federal government.

All four expressed doubts that climate change is caused by humans.  Tillis said President Barack Obama and Sen. Kay Hagan are using the issue to wage a war on coal.

Tillis said this war on coal "damages jobs and causes a whole list of problems out of this false science that some of them want to use."

Brannon went a step further.

"Does a human being affect it?  The answer is no," he said.

With early voting set to start on Thursday, time is running out for lesser known candidates to break out from the pack.

"I have proven leadership ability.  I proved that when I was in the military," Grant said, telling WNCN she would be a leader in the U.S. Senate and focus on returning the government to the principals of the Constitution.

"One of the things we've been trying to do is make the distinction that character counts," Harris said, referencing what he called character issues with front runner Tillis.

Democrats have recently run ads questioning his involvement in a sex scandal involving two former staffers in 2012.

David McLennan, a political analyst with William Peace University in Raleigh said the debate did not do much to change the dynamics of the race.

"They need a strong candidate who can raise money and that's where I think Thom Tillis is probably the front runner," McLennan said, "and this debate tonight didn't bring him down very much."

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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