RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – You will have your one chance on Friday night to see North Carolina’s leading candidates for the U.S. Senate debate the issues face to face.

The only scheduled debate between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd will be staged by Spectrum News 1 at 8 p.m. Even if you don’t subscribe to Spectrum, you can watch for free on Spectrum News 1’s website.

LEFT: Democratic Senate candidate Cheri Beasley speaks to canvassers at Ebenzer Baptist Church on September 17, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images) RIGHT: Republican Congressman Ted Budd speaks at a Make America Great Again rally in Greensboro International Airport, in Greensboro, North Carolina on October 27, 2020. (Photo by Grant BALDWIN / AFP)
Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley (left, (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images), Republican Ted Budd speaks (Photo by Grant BALDWIN / AFP)

Beasley and Budd had sparred for a couple of weeks about various debate options before accepting this one, which will be moderated by Spectrum political anchor Tim Boyum, the host of “Front Porch Politics” and a veteran moderator of various debates.

Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Budd, who has represented the 13th Congressional District since 2016, have been locked in a tight race to replace retiring Republican Richard Burr of Winston-Salem.

Libertarian Shannon Bray, a Department of Defense employee from Apex, and Green Party candidate Matthew Hoh, a retired State Department employee from Wake Forest, also are on the ballot, but they were not invited to participate in the debate.

Spectrum News 1 political anchor Tim Boyum (SPECTRUM)

“Similar to other high-profile debates I’ve moderated, I’m looking to ask the candidates the questions that will give North Carolinians the information and answers they need to make an informed decision at the ballot box,” Boyum said in a statement emailed to WGHP.

The key issues

Absentee voting already is underway – some 19,000 of the state’s roughly 7.382 million registered voters had cast their ballots as of Thursday – and early in-person voting starts on Oct 20. Candidates have been campaigning across the state and hitting each other aggressively and repeatedly on the issues they think make the most difference with voters.

Budd is citing high inflation and tying Beasley to President Joe Biden and the economic policies Budd attributes to increasing inflation. He cites Beasley’s judicial record and how that relates to high crime, and he often mentions immigration issues.

Budd also is a supporter of former President Donald Trump and voted to set aside the 2020 presidential election under Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen. Trump endorsed Budd, which helped him win the nomination in a field of 14.

Beasley challenges Budd’s voting record in Congress – particularly on his position about abortion rights and women’s health issues, the agriculture industry and climate change – and she claims her own support from law enforcement and former Supreme Court judges.

She also pushes Budd for his support of Trump and the former president’s embrace of conspiracy theories and his involvement before and during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

About 41% of respondents in a WGHP/Emerson College/The Hill Poll of likely voters in North Carolina cited the economy/inflation as the most decisive factor on Nov. 8, and 12% said that abortion was more important (following the threat to democracy, 14%, and just ahead of health care, 11%). But a majority (59%) say they are much more likely (46%) or somewhat more likely (12%) to vote because of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

In a High Point University Poll released Thursday, in which respondents were asked to rate the level of importance of various issues, 74% said school safety was very important. Education (73%), inflation (73%), jobs (71%), health care (71%) and crime (70%) reached that level of importance. Majorities also said that taxes (64%), voting rights (62%), voting integrity (61%), corruption (61%), abortion (58%), race relations (53%) and infrastructure (52%) were very important. Climate change (46%), COVID-19 (46%) and public transportation (43%) were farther down.

Candidates’ views

How the candidates approach this debate and how aggressive they will be remain to be seen. WGHP asked each campaign questions about preparation and goals. This is what they had to say.

Budd’s campaign: “Thanks to her career as a slick trial lawyer, Cheri Beasley has honed her skill as an orator and Beasley will likely turn in a debate performance comparable to former Senator John Edwards in his prime,” Budd’s communications director, Samantha Cotten, said in an email. “But, despite being a master debater, Beasley is still gonna be delivering a flawed message of support for Joe Biden. Ted Budd will win with his message of fighting against Bidenflation policies, working to secure our border, and curbing crime by working with police instead of trying to defund the police.”

Beasley’s campaign: “Cheri is looking forward to sharing her message of being an independent voice that stands up for North Carolina, upholds the constitution and will always work to lower costs, while holding Congressman Budd accountable for putting himself and his corporate donors before North Carolinians and working to roll back our rights,” Kelci Hobson, spokesperson for the campaign, wrote in an email. “Cheri has always believed that every voter, no matter where they live, should have the opportunity to hear from their candidates on where they stand on the issues, which is why she was the only candidate to agree to and call for the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters’ debate which would have reached voters statewide.”

Here is how NC residents said they felt about a generic election ballot. (HPU POLL)

National support

High Point’s poll shows that respondents slightly prefer the Democratic candidate, 40% to 39%, with 18% undecided, and a poll released Tuesday by WRAL shows Budd with a 1-point lead (43%-42%) – a statistical tie – with 13% undecided.

But Beasley’s supporters are fretting that national Democrats are spending more on races in other competitive states, such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona, Politico reported.

AxiosRaleigh analyzed campaign spending data that shows pro-Democratic groups have spent $7.8 million in North Carolina (vs. $34.9 million by Republicans), which is far less than any key Senate race but Ohio.

Through June, Beasley had a significant fundraising lead over Budd, who also had millions of dollars in support from Club for Growth’s super PAC. Both candidates have been supported by the PACs for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Democrats give up sometimes too easy, and they give up on the South way too easy,” former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a supporter of Beasley’s, told Politico.