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Watch: First debate in high-stakes NC Senate race

PBS NewsHour will live stream tonight’s hourlong North Carolina Senate debate beginning at 6:30 p.m. EDT. The debate is hosted by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis are seeking political advantage in their first debate as television advertising intensifies in a costly, competitive Senate race with national stakes.

The hourlong confrontation Wednesday night marks the first major post-Labor Day event of a national struggle between the political parties for Senate control.

Republicans must gain six states to win the Senate majority and have long listed North Carolina as a top target. Two months before the election, polling suggests that the race is a toss-up.

Hagan, 61, fashions herself as “not too far left, not too far right. Just like North Carolina” in her television advertising at a time when President Barack Obama’s popularity has declined in the state compared to last year.

At the same time, Hagan and allies accuse Tillis of presiding over a cut in education spending as speaker of one house of the North Carolina legislature. They also say he slashed unemployment benefits and weakened voter protections for minorities.

Tillis, 54, counters that education spending has risen each year since he became speaker, and teacher pay grew on average by 7 percent this year.

Since winning the Republican primary in May, Tillis has said Hagan’s voting record is shaped by Obama’s agenda rather than the needs of her constituents, as evidenced in her vote for the president’s health care legislation.

Hagan has treated Obama gingerly. She criticized his policy on veterans recently a few days before he visited the state, then welcomed him warmly when he stepped off Air Force One in Charlotte to speak to the American Legion.

Hagan, Tillis and their allies have already spent about $29 million on the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making it one of the most expensive in the country.

Much of that has gone into television commercials.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee began running a new ad Wednesday criticizing Hagan’s tenure as a state senator through 2008, when she defeated Sen. Elizabeth Dole in an upset.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which backs Tillis, announced it intends to begin two weeks of advertising on Thursday.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has pledged to spend $9.1 million in advertising supporting Hagan.

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