by: Jason Stoogenke Updated:RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)he four leading candidates in North Carolina's Republican U.S. Senate primary differed little from each other on issues important to the conservative base Wednesday night during their second televised debate in as many days.
Greg Brannon, Heather Grant, Mark Harris and Thom Tillis were largely in sync at a Raleigh TV studio on their answers dealing with illegal immigration, repealing the health care overhaul law and considering any government response to climate change.
The similarities meant Tillis — the state House speaker, the GOP race's leading fundraiser and the only elected official among the four — could attempt to persuade potential voters on the eve of early voting Thursday that he wasn't too moderate.
He also took the lead on bashing first-term Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, whom the winner of the eight-candidate Republican primary will take on in the fall. Hagan is considered politically vulnerable as Republicans seek to win back control of the U.S. Senate. The primary is May 6.
On the health care law, Tillis said, "the first thing that we all believe needs to be done is to repeal it." Later, he reinforced their similarities in response to a question about what to do about millions of immigrants unlawfully in the country. After first securing the nation's borders, he added, "the second thing that I think we all agree on is there's no amnesty."
Harris, Grant and Brannon didn't attack Tillis on other issues during the quick-moving half-hour debate. Brannon had picked at Tillis' record during their first debate Tuesday at Davidson College.
Tillis, however, was more measured in his fuller response to immigration. Harris, Grant and Brannon all said immigrants in the country unlawfully should have to leave the U.S. and get to the back of the line to return to country.
"They are criminals," said Grant, a family nurse practitioner from Wilkesboro. "We should not reward them in any way, shape, form or fashion."
Tillis would only say that initially criminals, such as human traffickers, within the pool of these immigrants should be arrested and deported. He didn't say exactly what he would do with the others. "You have to solve these problems in sequences," he said.
On a question about whether climate change deserves action by the federal government, Brannon said such proposals are a way to control the use of carbon.
"Climate changes every day. ... Does a human being affect it? The answer is no," said Brannon, a Cary obstetrician. "The literature's so clear on this." Many scientists believe changes in the Earth's climate are caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
On a question about religion and politics, Harris, a Baptist minister from Charlotte, added that his Christian faith contributes to his belief that he would bring "character, consistency and courage" to the U.S. Senate.
After the debate, Harris tried to get in some licks on Brannon and Tillis. Brannon lost a civil lawsuit in February that he's now appealing. Tillis has faced questions on a severance package he agreed to for two staffers in the speaker's office who resigned for in appropriate relationships with lobbyists.
"I think there's no question that character does still count in North Carolina," he said.
A third and final debate is slated for Monday night with the same four candidates.