WASHINGTON, D.C. — Incumbent Republican candidate Thom Tillis (R) and Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham are going head-to-head this November in a bid to represent North Carolina in the United States Senate.

Background

Tillis was first elected to the Senate in 2014 after defeating incumbent Democratic candidate Kay Hagan. Before his venture into politics, Tillis worked as a top-level executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC (a consulting firm) and IBM. Tillis was elected to the N.C. House of Representatives in 2006 and elected by his peers to serve as House Speaker from 2011 to 2014 before running for Congress.

Cal Cunningham was elected to the State Senate at the age of 27, representing Davidson, Rowan and Iredell counties. Cunningham joined the U.S. Army Reserve after Sept. 11, 2001, and served three tours of activity duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cunningham maintains the rank of lieutenant colonel and previously ran ZeroWaste, a nonprofit out of Raleigh that helps guide communities toward sustainable practices.

Economic relief

The topic of a second round of COVID-19 relief has been an important issue in the Senate, especially after a bill that would have provided another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding and stimulus checks was stalled earlier in September. The Republican-proposed HEALS Act would have provided $1 trillion in funding versus the $2.2 trillion provided by the CARES Act.

“I voted for a COVID-19 relief bill that includes vaccine funding, emergency loans to small businesses, additional unemployment benefits, as well as liability protections for schools and health care providers, but it was callously blocked by Chuck Schumer and the Democrats. During last week’s debate (Sept. 14), Cal Cunningham admitted that he would’ve voted against that relief bill as well,” Tillis said in an email response.

“The small business support program was an important part of the first wave of COVID relief, and I’ve been talking to folks all over North Carolina that have been able to keep their companies going and keep people on the payroll as a result,” Cunningham said. “I’m hearing from small businesses that need top-up and the potential for economic dislocation is pretty high if we don’t get some action there. Putting money in the pocket of people who are out of work for no fault of their own is incredibly important. What the Senate took up would have cut it in half.”

Health care

According to Families USA, around 20 percent of North Carolinians are currently uninsured without about 238,000 of these individuals having lost their coverage due to being laid off. For those who are still employed, the amount employees pay on employer-sponsored health plans rose from 11 percent of the state’s median income to 14 percent in 2018. Treatments politicians have proposed to cure the country’s ailing health care system include expanding Medicaid, price transparency, quality transparency and opening up the system to more free market principles.

“Americans from both sides of the aisle agree that Obamacare isn’t working. I support replacing Obamacare with a market-based solution that lowers cost, expands choice, allows individuals to be covered by their parents’ plan up to the age of 26, and ensures protections for patients with preexisting conditions,” Tillis said. “I have worked to protect patients with pre-existing conditions regardless of Obamacare’s future in the courts through the Protect Act. I also believe that Medicaid expansion is an issue that should be decided by state leaders. While I was Speaker of the House in Raleigh I helped save North Carolina’s Medicaid program from years of fraud, waste and abuse and left the program in a better position to expand it if state leaders choose to do so.”

“I think we need to build on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It’s not perfect. It needs work, but there are tools available there, and Medicaid expansion is one of them,” Cunningham explained. “Others include additional subsidies, using the ACA to bring down the cost of premiums and a public option to catch additional people who may not qualify for Medicaid today that might be an earlier participate in Medicare or a separate nonprofit. I’ve never supported (a government takeover of health care). I think we need a good mix of private coverage as well as public policies like Medicaid that help catch people whatever their circumstances are.”

National debt

Currently, the national debt sits at $26.70 trillion, and due to increased government spending to help mitigate the pandemic, the debt is projected to be larger than the country’s economy next year, according to National Public Radio.

“I have always been vocal about the importance of curbing the national debt and have voted against budgets that overspent taxpayer dollars,” Tillis stated. “While the nation is in a health and economic crisis that requires swift relief to the American people, I have not lost sight of the debt crisis facing the nation, which is why I opposed the HEROES Act. The partisan legislation was a liberal wish list that included items that had nothing to do with combatting COVID-19. In fact, the legislation mentioned cannabis more times than jobs and provides bailouts for blue states like New York and California. I find that type of spending irresponsible and unfair to the people of North Carolina. In an effort to keep the national debt manageable, I am focused on keeping any COVID relief narrowly tailored to addressing the virus.”

“I think it’s important to note that one of the reasons that at least in six years that Senator Tillis has been there that we’ve run up the national debt so fast is because in 2017 we did this massive tax giveaway that is benefitting the richest people in America and the richest corporations in the world,” Cunningham said. “It tacked about $2 trillion onto the nation’s credit card, and they said it was going to pay for itself and people would benefit from it, but the people who have benefitted from it have been the wealthiest people in our country, really the top one percent. What I’ve argued for is that we need to substitute those temporary tax cuts for the rich with permanent tax breaks that help people who are working for a living and families raising children.”

Policing

2020 has been a tumultuous year for law and order in the country, as the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police have both sparked massive protests across the country, while many communities’ relationships with law enforcement have been strained. Both candidates expressed their support for law enforcement.

“While Cal Cunningham has said that he ‘joins the fight’ of the protestors who want to abolish the police, I strongly oppose efforts to defund our nation’s law enforcement and signed Heritage Action’s police pledge to reiterate this commitment to ensure the safety and security of North Carolina communities,” Tillis said. “I have fought on behalf of law enforcement throughout my time in the Senate and, most recently, co-sponsored the Justice Act, a common-sense police reform bill that respects the jobs of men and women in law enforcement.”

“I was an Army prosecutor, and that year I spent at Fort Bragg I was also a federal prosecutor. So I’ve worked very closely with law enforcement. The last couple of years, I was vice chair of Governor Cooper’s crime commission. I worked shoulder to shoulder with sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys,” Cunningham said. “I put out a plan to put more money into the hands of law enforcement by creating a new Department of Justice grant funding program that would help our local law enforcement and sheriffs adopt best practices and policies, going through accreditation, banning choke holds and dealing with some of the reforms that law enforcement leaders say they need to go through to make sure law enforcement is doing its best to keep every community safe.”

Libertarian candidate Shannon Bray and Constitution Party candidate Kevin Hayes are also on the ballot this November for U.S. Senate.

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