Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd, candidates for U.S. Senate, faced off Friday evening in the first and only scheduled debate of the campaign season. Beasley and Budd discussed their competing visions for North Carolina, exchanging takes on critical issues such as inflation, abortion rights and immigration.
The candidates, who are running to replace Republican Sen. Richard Burr, are now in the home stretch of a tightly contested race. The outcome of the Nov. 8 election could tip the balance of power in the Senate, a fact that loomed large as Budd and Beasley sparred over contentious topics.
Early voting will start on Oct. 20 and will last until 3 p.m. on Nov. 5, the Sunday before Election Day. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 14.
Here are some highlights of the hour-long debate.
Moderator and journalist Tim Boyum kicked off the evening by asking candidates about one of the nation’s most pressing issues: the economy. The candidates held different beliefs of the root causes of inflation.
Budd laid blame for inflation at the feet of the Biden administration, whose COVID relief packages he said went “way too far” and promoted unnecessary spending. Budd proposed cutting regulations, which he says hurt small businesses, and approving more energy projects.
Beasley also criticized the White House’s response, and took an opportunity for a quick jab at Budd.
“We know that corporations are seeing 70-year record profits and using that as a cover for inflation and jacking up prices, and Congress can stop that,” Beasley said. “But Congressman Ted Budd hasn’t stopped that, and, in fact, he’s actually helping it. He’s voted against lowering drug prices and gas prices.”
Abortion access is set to be a key issue in midterm races across the nation this fall, and North Carolina is no exception.
In response to the question “What would be your ideal abortion law?” Budd said, “I’ve always been pro-life … I’ve always been about protecting the life of the mother. I want to save as many unborn lives as possible.”
In September, the three-term Congressman co-signed House Resolution 8814, which would instate a national ban on the procedure after 15 weeks. On Friday, however, he did not specify how far he believes restrictions should go in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. And despite his support for the H.R. 8814, he said in regards to the Dobbs ruling that the issue of abortion access should be left to the states.
Budd criticized Beasley’s support of the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, which he called “the most extreme bill in legislative history.” The bill passed the U.S. House and failed in the Senate. It would have codified a health care provider’s ability to provide abortions and a patient’s right to have an abortion prior to fetal viability, and the right to abortions after viability if the pregnancy poses a health risk.
He also claimed that she supported abortion “at any time, for any reason, up until the moment of birth” at the expense of taxpayers. Beasley denied this, clarifying that she “believes in the standards as outlined in Roe, with protections and restrictions,” which permited late-term abortions in cases where the life of the mother was in danger.
The former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice also expressed a desire to codify its protections into law.
“The bottom line is, Congressman Budd wants to be in between a woman and her doctor. And there is no place in the exam room for Congressman Budd,” she said.
Biden, Trump & election integrity
Both candidates shied away from being associated with leaders of their party. Beasley demurred when asked whether she’d want President Joe Biden’s support on the campaign trail. Budd, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump in the GOP primary, said he was "going to exclusively focus on this (race) right now" when asked if he would support a 2024 run.
Boyum also asked each candidate whether they believed that the results of the 2022 election would be legitimate. Both candidates agreed.
Budd also acknowledged the legitimacy of Biden’s electoral victory in 2020. However, he stood by his prior vote not to certify the results of the election.
“The core of that vote was to inspire more debate,” Budd said. “I do stand by that vote.”
Beasley honed in on this decision, also criticizing her opponent for referring to participants in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as “patriots.”
“He continues to spread the big lie of the 2020 election,” she said.
Beasley also defended her own demands for a recount in her last election, where she lost her seat on the N.C. Supreme Court.
“What I asked for was a fair, legal recount and once I saw the results I was happy to concede,” she said.
The candidates agreed that illegal immigration is a pressing issue. Beasley pushed to accompany stronger borders with policy changes to provide legal pathways for immigration.
“Let's be clear, there are some folks who should not be in this country,” she said. “Reform means that we absolutely must secure the border … We also must have a clear pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and for those who serve honorably in the military.”
Budd responded by affirming his support for a border wall and for border control workers. He argued that movement across the southern border was responsible in large part for the fentanyl epidemic and for other instances of crime across the country. Every county in North Carolina, he said, is “like a border country” as a result.
“It’s not the whole solution,” Budd said of a border wall, “but it’s a large part.”
Beasley concluded the hour-long debate by sharing her personal story and shifting focus back to her vision for North Carolina.
“We need to have safe communities. We need to support our farmers and small businesses. We need to make sure there’s an advocate for us, fighting for our rights in the Senate. And we also need to make sure that people can live a safe, healthy and productive life,” she said.
Budd’s final message reiterated one of his talking points of the night: linking his opponent with Biden. He said that he believes Biden has set the country on the wrong track, pointing to Biden’s approval ratings, which currently hover around 42%.
“Joe Biden is on the ballot on Nov. 8, and he goes by the name this year of Cheri Beasley, because she will be a rubber stamp,” he said.
Voters will weigh the merits of Budd and Beasley’s arguments at the polls in just under a month.
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Sevana Wenn is a Trinity sophomore and features managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Millie Caughey is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.