Analysts break down why NC Senate debate may have swayed undecided voters toward Cunningham

Tillis-Cunningham Debate

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Undecided voters and political analysts alike weighed in on Tuesday’s debate between Sen. Thom Tillis (R) and challenger Cal Cunningham (D).

Of the nine undecided voters who participated watched as a group in a study in Charlotte, seven said they had their opinions swayed by the hour-long debate.

Many said they viewed Tillis less favorably because of his strategy in answering questions.

“It was very frustrating to watch in that debate. Thom Tillis didn’t really answer the question. I wish he would have given a yes or a no so at least we knew where he stood,” one undecided voter said of Tillis’ handling of the mask mandate discussion. “The constant flipping it and making accusations, that wasn’t really answering the question. So for those of us who haven’t quite made a decision, that didn’t really help me other than just to know he doesn’t really have a position.”

The two who said they weren’t swayed expressed similar viewpoints — that there was too much attacking the other candidate and that it came across like a live version of their respective advertisements.

“In a lot of respects, debates are about appealing to your base,” said John Locke Foundation senior political analyst Mitch Kokai of the criticism that the debate was too similar to campaign ads. “They really aren’t about talking about nuance or working across the aisle. … They’re more about ‘here’s what I think’ and ‘here’s why I’m better than the other person.'”

Tillis might have found success in that regard, according to Kokai. He believes Tillis could be bolstered by saying he would back up President Donald Trump’s nomination for the vacant Supreme Court seat.

“We know that Thom Tillis’ biggest struggle is that he has been running behind Donald Trump in the polls, and that is because there are a lot of people among conservatives and Republicans in North Carolina who don’t trust Thom Tillis as much as they trust Donald Trump,” Kokai said.

North Carolina Central University associate dean and law professor April Dawson said Cunningham providing more information about his stances in his answers was why some of the undecided voters reacted more favorably to him.

“I think one of the reasons why the undecided voters were comparing Cunningham and Tillis was because Cunningham actually did give more substance to a lot of his answers. So, even though he was a little more aggressive in this debate than he was the last debate, he was still able to give details and specifics,” Dawson said.

Kokai said he didn’t think Tillis or Cunningham explained their stances on healthcare reform well enough given the high interest shown by the group of undecided voters. He also said he was surprised by the relatively low interest shown in Medicaid expansion given how well the issue has polled with North Carolina voters.

Dawson and Kokai both said they believed Cunningham won Tuesday’s debate.

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