North Carolina's U.S. Senate candidate incumbent Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Deborah Ross face off in their first debate tonight.
One of the hottest issues taking center stage in this race: sex offenders.
Both sides are running ads, claiming the other is soft on sexual predators.
Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke put the ads to the truth test.
Burr's ad features a rape victim who says Ross cares more about sexual predators than the victims.
"Deborah Ross opposed the North Carolina sex offender registry, warning of the repercussions to sex offenders, and worrying about their right to privacy," the ad says.
"The belief that we need to be as prudent at making sure that we protect the rights of an abuser is ludicrous to North Carolina," Burr told Stoogenke in an interview. "What this pattern shows is her values don't match the values of a majority of North Carolinians."
A super PAC tied to the GOP, the Senate Leadership Fund, echoes Burr's attacks.
"Ross repeatedly objected to making the sex offender database publicly available, worried the database would place burdens on sex offenders," it says.
When Ross was running North Carolina's ACLU in the '90s, she did send a memo to members, saying the registry "would make it even harder for people to reintegrate into society and start over and could lead to vigilantism."
She also worried, in cases where the victim and predator are relatives, the registry could compromise the victim's privacy.
But Ross says she wasn't against the registry, just questioning it, and is now firing back in an ad of her own. The ad features the sponsor of the bill, Fountain Odom, telling viewers, "Deborah not only supports the sex offender registry, she worked to make it stronger."
As a state legislator (2003-2013), Ross voted at least 18 times to combat sex crimes, for example:
- more money for law enforcement to track offenders
- tougher penalties for sex offenders
- more GPS monitoring of offenders
- made it a more serious crime for an offender to live within 1,000 feet of a school
- expanded sex offender laws to include more kinds of peeping, felony child abuse that involves prostitution of a juvenile, and taking indecent liberties with a student
Ross's ad also attacks Burr's record on sex offenders.
"Senator Burr voted against funding the federal sex offender registry," the ad says.
Burr actually voted yes to adding the registry to a massive spending bill, but then voted no on the bill itself.
Stoogenke asked Burr about that.
"An overall omnibus spending bill that broke the back of the finances of the country, I voted against," Burr said.
"How do you feel about that now? Do you regret that decision?" Stoogenke asked.
"Absolutely not, because I think that we've got to have some fiscal responsibility," Burr responded.
That said, Burr has gone tough on sex offenders multiple times, voting for harsher punishments, making them pay higher fines to victims, putting more background checks in place, and co-sponsoring legislation to address rape kit backlogs.
Stoogenke offered to interview Ross as well.
Her campaign said she wasn't in the Charlotte area during the time her was working on this report.
Her team did send a written statement, saying, "Of course Deborah supports a sex offender registry, she always has."
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