Five takeaways from the debate in the North Carolina Senate

North Carolina’s Senate race has turned out to be perhaps the quietest throwing-up contest of the year.

But both parties are taking the race — one of a handful that could determine control of the upper chamber — seriously. Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd met for the first time Friday night to debate a laundry list of issues playing out in key races across the country.

Here are five takeaways from their debate:

Budd and Beasley avoid their parties’ leaders

Neither Beasley nor Budd seemed eager to be tied to their respective parties’ leaders.

Asked if President Biden should run for a second term in 2024, Beasley deflected the question, saying simply that it was not her decision to make. She also dodged repeated questions about whether she wanted Biden to campaign with her before the midterms.

Likewise, Budd declined to say whether former President Trump would run for the White House again in two years.

Their responses—or lack thereof—illustrate how both candidates are approaching their parties’ most divisive figures at a critical juncture in the Senate race. While both Biden and Trump have loyal followings, operatives on both sides are aware that there is a risk in being too closely tied to either person.

Still, that didn’t stop Beasley from going after Budd for his ties to Trump. And Budd repeatedly attacked Beasley as a mouthpiece for the Biden administration.

Abortion plays a major role

Beasley repeatedly blew the whistle on what Democrats believe may be their strongest talking point of the year: abortion rights.

While Budd repeatedly argued that the issue of reproductive rights belongs to the states, Beasley insisted that Republicans were intent on limiting abortion rights, saying the GOP was stepping into an issue that should be private.

“There is no room in the exam room for Congressman Budd,” she said.

The debate illustrated how difficult it has been for some time for Republicans to respond to Democratic attacks in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision.

The question, however, is whether it will be enough to get enough voters in November.

Biden’s marijuana decision looms over the debate

One of the clearest divides Friday night was on Biden’s recent decision to pardon people convicted of marijuana possession at the federal level.

Beasley was clear in his position that cannabis should be legalized at the federal level, echoing a position that has become increasingly popular not just in North Carolina, but nationally.

Budd, meanwhile, said Biden’s decision “sends a bad message to kids.”

He said he was willing to have a conversation about whether certain people had a genuine medical need for marijuana. But he slammed the idea of ​​legalizing the drug, then immediately turned the conversation to the issue of illegal immigration and crime.

Bid resets Biden

If there’s one thing national Republicans are betting on next month, it’s that the Bidens’ unpopularity will return them to the majority, not just in the House, but in the Senate.

Budd’s strategy made that clear.

Throughout the debate, Budd tried to tie Beasley to his party’s leader, trying to cast her as an easy vote in favor of Biden’s agenda in an evenly divided Senate.

And Beasley appeared to recognize the dangers Biden poses to her prospects in November. Asked whether she would join the president if he stopped campaigning in North Carolina, Beasley hesitated.

“President Biden is certainly welcome to be here,” she said.

The quietest battlefield remains silent

North Carolina has repeatedly hosted some of the closest statewide races in the country.

But in a year when control of both the House and Senate is up for grabs, the state is playing a supportive role in more closely watched races, such as those in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada.

Strategists and political observers say that’s simply because Budd and Beasley have kept things relatively civil. Both have held elected office before and have previously been scrutinized by voters.

Friday’s debate did little to change that. The message was clear: Beasley attacked Budd as a mouthpiece for Trump and a right-wing extremist, while Budd accused Beasley of toeing her party line amid mounting national crises.

While many political observers have looked past the North Carolina Senate race, strategists have been watching it closely, believing that control of the upper chamber could very well come down to who wins the seat of outgoing Sen. Richard Burr (RN.C.).

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