Previewing the North Carolina U.S. Senate debate
Bill Adair
By Bill Adair October 6, 2014

The battle over the U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina has had a distinctive recipe: some familiar ingredients about Medicare and Obamacare, with a few state issues tossed in for local flavor.

The incumbent is Kay Hagan, 61, a Democrat serving her first term in the Senate. She is the niece of former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles and got started in politics by helping him put bumper stickers on cars. A former banker, she served in the North Carolina Senate for 10 years.

The challenger is Thom Tillis, 54, the Speaker of the North Carolina House.  He was a partner with the consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, where he advised a bank and large national corporations.

Lately, the candidates have attacked each other about the rise of the terrorist group known variously as ISIS, ISIL or the Islamic State. Hagan has said Tillis has dodged questions about how he’d respond to the group, while Tillis has said Hagan is out of touch on the issue because she missed so many meetings of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In one Tillis ad, the narrator says, "In January, President Obama refers to the Islamic State as a ‘JV team.’ Days later the Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on new global threats. Sen. Kay Hagan? Absent. In fact, Hagan’s missed half the Armed Services Committee hearings this year."

We checked Hagan’s attendance and found that Hagan had attended nine of 22 public meetings. It was not possible to determine if she attended the closed hearings, so we rated Tillis’ claim Mostly True.

The biggest state issue in the campaign has been education, with Hagan and teacher groups attacking Tillis about teacher pay, while Tillis has claimed that he’s boosted education funding.

A TV ad from Women Vote, an arm of EMILY’s List, a political action committee that supports Democratic women who favor of abortion rights, said that Tillis "cut almost $500 million from education, causing crowded classrooms and forcing teachers to pay out-of-pocket for school supplies, while Tillis protected tax breaks for yachts and jets."

We fact-checked the claim about the $500 million education cut and rated it Half True.

As for the tax breaks for yachts and jets, we rated that claim False when it was made by the liberal Senate Majority PAC in a TV ad. By using the word "gives," the group suggests Tillis created the tax breaks, but the law had been around for 23 years and Tillis just left it unchanged.

We did, however, find truth in a claim by the liberal group Patriot Majority USA that a tax plan promoted by Tillis will "overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy." We rated that Mostly True.

Like many House and Senate campaign these days, there’s also been a back and forth about Obamacare.

Tillis has repeated Republican talking points that the Congressional Budget Office estimated 2 million jobs could be lost because of Obamacare, a claim we have previously rated Mostly False. Hagan has fired back that Tillis called Obamacare "a great idea." We checked the tape and found she plucked his words out of context and rated her claim Mostly False.

The liberal Patriot Majority USA said Tillis’ opposition to Obamacare means that he would would let insurance companies "deny coverage for pre-existing conditions," a claim we rated Mostly True. The conservative Americans for Prosperity earned a False for its claim that Hagan "supports waivers for friends of Obama and special treatment for Congress and their staffs."

Patriot Majority USA has also trotted out the familiar Democratic attack line on Medicare, saying that Tillis "supports a plan that would end Medicare as we know it." We rated that Mostly False.

And finally, there was a kerfuffle after two Tillis staffers got caught having affairs with lobbyists.

The Senate Majority PAC aired an ad about the revelations, and then Tillis responded with his own ad that said, "Seen those ads attacking Thom Tillis? They’re false. Tillis fired the staffers."

We found the Senate Majority PAC’s description of the situation -- not Tillis’ -- was closer to the truth and rated his claim Mostly False.

Bill Adair is a Contributing Editor to PolitiFact and a professor of journalism and public policy at Duke University. The Duke Reporters’ Lab is partnering with PolitiFact to help with fact-checking the 2014 Senate campaign in North Carolina.

Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter

Our Sources

See Truth-O-Meter items.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Bill Adair

Previewing the North Carolina U.S. Senate debate