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What To Expect Ahead of First #NCSen Debate

Tonight marks the first of three, statewide televised Senate debates between Cal Cunningham and Senator Thom Tillis. While Cal will use the debate to speak directly to North Carolinians and lay out his priorities for bringing down prescription drug costs, investing in education, and helping our economy recover, you can expect Senator Tillis to spend the debate attacking Cal in an effort to distract from his record of playing errand boy for the corporate PACs propping up his flailing campaign instead of serving North Carolinians.

Tonight’s debate couldn’t come at a worse time for Tillis who is facing a barrage of negative press that raises more questions about his conduct as a candidate and senator: 

  • Last week, Tillis found himself at the center of a bombshell report from the Washington Post, describing an alleged straw donor scheme led by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major violation of federal and state campaign laws. Tillis, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars from employees of DeJoy, now faces a federal complaint as he continues to defend DeJoy and even called the recently-announced House investigation into the alleged donor scheme a ‘witch hunt.’ Tillis has also refused to criticize DeJoy for harmful cuts and rollbacks to the U.S. Postal Service, which have harmed North Carolina veterans and rural communities who rely on the postal service for things like prescription medications.

  • On Tuesday, WRAL reported that a Tillis staffer made inappropriate and dismissive comments to a three-time cancer survivor, Mrs. Bev Veals, who was expressing concerns over health care coverage after her husband was recently furloughed. The Tillis staffer compared health care coverage to a dress shirt, telling Mrs. Veals: “if I can’t afford that dress shirt, I don’t get to get it.” When Mrs. Veals asked the staffer what else she could do, he coldly replied: “you’re going to have to figure it out.” The staffer’s attitude reflects Tillis’ own attitudes on health care for North Carolinians, having voted 15 times to partially or fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, even calling one of those votes “courageous,” and having bragged about blocking Medicaid expansion as North Carolina Speaker of the House, as one million North Carolinians don’t have health insurance coverage in the middle of a pandemic.

Here’s what else to expect:

The debate will underscore key contrasts between Cal and Tillis. Cal took on corrupt government contractors in the U.S. Army Reserve, and he’ll take on corruption again in the Senate. Meanwhile, Tillis is part of the corrupt system in Washington, too weak to stand up to his corporate special interest donors and wealthy insiders and caving to them at the expense of working people in North Carolina.

  • Cal supports building on the Affordable Care Act, including expanding Medicaid in North Carolina. In stark contrast, Tillis has voted repeatedly to gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and he’s the reason our state remains one of only 12 states where Medicaid hasn’t been expanded, denying 634,000 North Carolinians care. Expect Tillis to tout his “Protect Act” as his solution on health care, but don’t be fooled. Experts say it leaves protections for pre-existing conditions “on the cutting room floor.”

  • Cal will take on the system in Washington that’s rigged for the pharmaceutical industry so we can bring down costs for North Carolinians. Tillis on the other hand has taken $400,000 from the pharmaceutical industry, while opposing efforts to reduce the price of prescription drugs. He also voted for a tax bill that gave his pharma corporate donors billions in tax breaks.

  • Cal isn’t taking corporate PAC money, and in the Senate he’ll answer to North Carolinians. But Tillis has accepted $3 million from corporate PACs, and in Washington he’s done their bidding, voting to give them a massive tax break.

  • Cal has a proven record of investing in public education, raising teacher pay and reducing class sizes, while Tillis has instead slashed funding for public education, increased class sizes and eliminated teaching positions all to pay for more tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected. And Tillis voted to confirm Betsy DeVos — whose family has donated thousands to Tillis’ campaign — as Secretary of Education, who has since actively worked to weaken public education in this country.

  • Tillis has even been too weak to stand up for servicemembers in North Carolina, especially when it puts him at odds with his party leadership. Last year, Tillis famously announced his plans to oppose the president’s border wall national emergency, only to change his mind weeks later to side with his party, a vote that allowed $80 million to be raided from North Carolina military installations. Tillis has also failed to seek out answers on behalf of military families on reports of Russian bounties on U.S. troops, and he couldn’t even say it was wrong of President Trump to disparage our veterans by calling them “losers.” As a veteran, taking care of North Carolina’s servicemembers, veterans, and their families will always be personal to Cal.

Senator Tillis will be forced to answer for the federal government’s failure to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic, including his defense of the President even as he admitted to downplaying the virus. Cal will show real leadership and lay out his priorities for taking meaningful action to help North Carolinians who are hurting. 

  • In May, Cal released his priorities for fighting the coronavirus pandemic that included more testing, a plan for getting people back to work, investments in communities of color that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, and aid for state and local governments. Cal has been calling on Congress to pass another COVID relief package that includes an extension of federal unemployment benefits, resources for schools and small businesses and an incentive for states like North Carolina to expand Medicaid.

  • In contrast, Tillis walked away from COVID relief negotiations in August, letting unemployment benefits expire as he headed out for a month-long recess, benefits that were already “one of the stingiest” in the country thanks to Tillis. Tillis didn’t even release a plan to combat COVID-19 until July, six months after being briefed, and the plan doesn’t mention health care once. He continues to repeat his tone-deaf pleas for North Carolinians to remember their lives back in February while they struggle to get by in the midst of a global pandemic and a struggling economy.

Senator Tillis will try unsuccessfully to paint Cal as too liberal for North Carolina, even though it’s Tillis who votes with his own party 96 percent of the time and receives millions from Mitch McConnell’s donor network of corporate PACs and special interests. 

This November, the choice couldn’t be clearer: Cal Cunningham will take on the corruption in Washington and put North Carolina first, but when Tillis is caught between what is right for North Carolina and what his corporate special interest donors want, his donors always win.

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