U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham meet Monday night for the first of three televised debates in their pivotal U.S. Senate election in North Carolina.
The hour-long debate begins at 7 p.m. on WRAL. It will be hosted by WRAL’s David Crabtree. You can watch the debate on WRAL or online, including below.
Tillis, a Republican, won the seat in 2014, defeating then-Sen. Kay Hagan in a tight race. This race is considered a toss-up and could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate in 2021.
Cunningham, a corporate attorney and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has held a small, persistent polling lead over Tillis, a former executive at IBM who served as speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives.
Libertarian Shannon Bray and Constitution Party nominee Kevin E. Hayes will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. Neither will appear in Monday night’s debate.
Tillis and Cunningham have also agreed to debates on Sept. 22 and Oct. 1, though the Tillis campaign has pushed for additional debates.
Voters in North Carolina are already voting by mail. More than 784,000 absentee-by-mail ballot requests have been made so far. In-person early voting begins on Oct. 15. Election Day is Nov. 3.
What to expect
The debate will be held in a Raleigh television studio without a live audience due to COVID-19 safety precautions. No other media will be allowed in the studio, either.
The campaign has developed along consistent lines.
Tillis and his campaign have tried to portray Cunningham as a candidate who will provide a vote to liberals in Washington to raise taxes and defund the police, while touting the incumbent as fighting for your job during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cunningham and his campaign have tried to paint Tillis as someone unwilling and unable to stand up to his donors or his party, including President Donald Trump, and Cunningham as someone who will fight corruption in Washington.
In separate campaign memos, the campaigns outlined the contours of the race.
“The Democrats’ strategy is clear, make Thom Tillis appear to be a do-nothing Senator who only cares about himself while positioning Cunningham as a right-of-center moderate who is willing to work with both sides when he gets to Washington. The foundation of the Cunningham campaign is one of appearance, not fact,” wrote Paul Shumaker, Tillis’ general consultant, in a letter to supporters Sunday.
Cunningham has raised a record amount of money, and he and his allies are expected to outspend Tillis and his allies.
“Senator Tillis will try unsuccessfully to paint Cal as too liberal for North Carolina, even though it’s Tillis who votes with his party 96 percent of the time,” Cunningham campaign manager Devan Barber wrote in a memo Monday.
Tillis has attacked Cunningham for what Republicans say are criticisms of the Paycheck Protection Program, intended to help small businesses during the pandemic, at a time when Cunningham’s former company WasteZero secured a loan from the program.
Cunningham has attacked Tillis for his connections to GOP donor Louis DeJoy, who has faced criticisms about mail slowdowns since taking over as Postmaster General and, more recently, about the legality of previous donations made by employees at DeJoy’s Greensboro-based company.
Expect both topics to come up Monday.
Find more about the candidates
Tillis and Cunningham answered questions for our 2020 Voter Guide on a number of topics, including lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, job creation, affordable health care and the Supreme Court. You can find their answers as well as other information about candidates across North Carolina in our 2020 Voter Guide.
It is accessible to subscribers of the News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun.
For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Domecast politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it on Megaphone, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.