RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The two leading candidates to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate faced off under Friday night lights – although these were the lights of a TV studio and the candidates kicked around ideas and each other rather than a football.

For about 60 minutes, Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd stood in the studios of Spectrum News 1 and took questions from anchor Tim Boyum and sometimes answered them – or at least turned them on each other.

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.

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., and Democratic challenger Cheri Beasley, shake hands after their televised debate, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, at Spectrum News 1 studio in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)

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.

This is the first time in this election cycle that Budd and Beasley have appeared in a debate. Budd declined to debate fellow Republicans during the primary election, although he did face Kathy Manning during their congressional race in 2018. Beasley, a lawyer by trade, debated Paul Newby in her narrow loss for the race for chief justice in 2020. Both  Beasley and Budd won their nominations easily.

Both are relatively mild-mannered, although they can get animated when talking about their pet issues, and on those they were very clear: Budd tied Beasley to President Joe Biden at every turn and said that “Joe Biden is on the ballot on Nov. 8,” and Beasley attacked Budd for his voting records on the very issues he raised and for his tie to former President Donald Trump.

Budd and Beasley showed on the debate stage that they were not polished politicians. They sometimes grasped for their trains of thought and sometimes paused to clarify language before usually returning to those two most tested weapons.

Budd on Friday made Biden and inflation the reason for just about every answer, from crime to the future of Social Security and Medicare to global instability. Beasley hammered Budd’s commitment to democracy because he has supported former Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen that led to the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol. And they disagreed on abortion rights.

Polls have shown all those issues resonate with various voters.

Campaigns and surrogates inundated inboxes with points, counterpoints and sound bites and links. But did the candidates offer actual plans solutions or just more slings and arrows?

What will you do?

For the most part, their solutions – even under pushing by Boyum – were short on policy and long on finger-pointing and connection to something else. Budd painted Beasley as a person who would only repeat what he saw as Biden’s errors, and Beasley wanted to be sure that voters were aware that Budd had voted against possible solutions for some of the very problems he pointed out.

Congress can take steps to lower drug prices and to make sure corporations aren’t price gouging, Beasley said, and she pointed out Budd had voted against lower drug prices and lower fuel prices.

Budd said Biden went too far with the American Rescue Plan. He called it “unnecessary spending.” He hammered on shutting down the Keystone Pipeline.

Budd said that when Trump was president inflation was lower – it was, significantly – and that unemployment was low (it’s about the same as it is now, depending on which state).

How do you solve immigration issues? Both said we need to secure our borders and have stronger controls for legal immigration. Budd says he need to keep out the criminal element. Beasley agrees but also says we need a visa system that provides workers for farmers. There was less disagreement than you might have expected.

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Cheri Beasley answers a question during a televised debate with Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, at Spectrum News 1 studio in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)

Abortion as an issue

But the most aggressive moments with the most power and conviction perhaps were the debate about what the nation should do to address abortion rights since the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade. Polls have shown this is an issue that resonates with voters.

Budd: “I’m for protecting the lives of the unborn and mothers. I’ve always been for right to life. … She’s for abortion under any circumstances right up until birth. … She would support the ‘Women’s Health Protection Act’ … the most extreme legislation. I think this is a state issue. … But I would counter that [bill] federally.”

Beasley: “There’s a fundamental question: Who makes a decision for a woman, her family and her doctor or politicians in Washington? … I will support the protections and restrictions of Roe v. Wade. There are limits [about 24 weeks]. It has a framework for [later] abortion only when a mother’s life is at risk.”

Biden and Trump

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., answers a question during a televised debate with Democratic challenger Cheri Beasley, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, at Spectrum News 1 studio in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)

Budd pushed Beasley on her not appearing with President Biden or his cabinet members during visits to the state (he has made one, to Greensboro earlier this year). Beasley said she welcomed Biden to North Carolina. “I want him to know what is affecting North Carolina.” She didn’t say she would stand by him at some future event.

Budd’s connection to Trump: He reminded that Trump won North Carolina twice and that his policies were better for North Carolinians. But in trying to separate himself just a little, Budd said, “My style is distinctly North Carolina. … I’m not running away from his endorsement. He endorsed me because I am an ‘America first’ candidate.”

Did Joe Biden win the 2020 election: Budd said, “Joe Biden is president. … I wish he weren’t.”

Budd also he voted to overturn the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6, 2021, “to create more debate.” Beasley said Budd called the insurrectionists as “just patriots.”

Both said they would accept results of the 2022 election. Beasley renounced Budd’s associating her asking for a recount in her very close loss in the 2020 for chief justice with Budd’s support for “the big lie.” Said Besley: “It’s outrageous to compare Congressman Budd’s denial to the 2020 election … to my request for a free and fair and legal recount.” she said. Budd said his goal was to make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

Other issues

Otherwise, candidates punched and counterpunched on various topics that Boyum introduced and pushed for their responses, sometimes asking them a second or third time just to be sure they gave a final answer. Some samples of interesting moments:

  • Budd bore in on using the 87,000 IRS agents tied to the “Inflation Reduction Act” to create more border agents (he has proposed such legislation). Beasley said that “actions speak louder” and Budd “has done nothing on the issues” concerning immigration. The “IRS agents has been debunked,” she said.0
  • Budd does not support Biden’s push to decriminalize marijuana possession. “It sends a terrible message to children” he said. He said he is against legalization for recreational usage. He said he would take a look at medical marijuana. He related marijuana to fentanyl smuggling. Beasley said she had not fully looked at Biden’s plan, but she supports legalized cannabis for all purposes and says it could help farmers.
  • Boyum gave both candidates a chance to refute attack ads. Beasley said the ads that attacked her judicial record are “not true … a distortion. … But my ad about Congressman Budd’s seed company is true.” Budd said that family farm issue was from a publicly traded company back in the “late ‘90s that I never worked for.”
  • Budd, a gun shop owner, said he supports the Second Amendment but also for keeping guns away from violent criminals and those with mental issues. He said Beasley wanted to “defund the police.” He also said that police organizations that had endorsed her in prior elections now supported him. She said she absolutely did not want to defund the police, that she had held criminals accountable and that she supported the guns legislation recently passed by Congress. She pointed out Budd voted against it and bills that would’ve provided about $32 million to law enforcement in the state.
  • Budd said any vote he took on health care would be to try to make it better for North Carolinians. If he voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was why. He decried “Medicare for all.” Beasley said she supports the ACA with a “public option” and expanding Medicaid in North Carolina.

The bottom line

The candidates in their conclusions came back to their most basic approaches:

Beasley: “You want a safe, healthy and productive life? Who will do that for you? Congressman Budd hasn’t done that.”

Budd: “About 65% to 70% of North Carolinians believe our state is on the wrong track. Joe Biden is on the ballot on Nov. 8, and he goes by the name of Cheri Beasley.”