The two candidates for North Carolina's Eighth District faced off in their first and only debate Wednesday, and the two used much of their time to talk directly to each other.
Republican Rep. Robin Hayes and Democrat Larry Kissell, who almost beat Hayes in 2006 in a swing district in south-central North Carolina, arrived at the office of Eyewitness News’ newspaper partner, the Independent Tribune in Kannapolis, and greeted voters outside with a smile.
But inside, while seated closely together, the gloves were off.
“You cheated our seniors, you cheated our workers, you're not being honest today,” Hayes said.
Hayes continued raising an issue seen in recent ads, which state Kissell failed to pay unemployment and Social Security taxes for his employees.
Kissell denied the accusations and tried to turn the focus on Hayes' record and the weakening economy.
“If anything has changed, and this has changed, these issues have gotten worse,” Kissell said.
Kissell criticized Hayes for the high unemployment rates in the district. Hayes cited job creation in recent months.
“I don’t want to lose jobs, anywhere, anytime. I want to make sure we pick up the pace,” he said.
“We've got to look after our working people,” Kissell said. “We've got to take care and protect their jobs and it has not been done.”
The debate wasn't open to the public, but voters stressed they're voting with their wallet, wanting assurance about the future.
“It's just a scary time for everybody with gas prices, things like that. Those are the things on everybody's mind,” said Shannon Rienbeck of Concord.
“(I want) someone who's going to help me, and my family, and the whole state of North Carolina. Yes, that's who I'll vote for,” said Billy Ray Brown of Landis.
The two candidates were asked to say something nice about each other at the end of the debate. Hayes praised Kissell for his work as a teacher, while Kissell called his opponent a "great family man."