This is not your Clint Eastwood empty chair moment from the 2012 Republican National Convention – but it’s close.
Republican candidate Thom Tillis decided he would still show up Tuesday to a fourth North Carolina Senate debate – despite being opponent-less. And the state’s Time Warner Cable News gave Tillis an hour of statewide TV time, and left an empty chair next to Tillis.
Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who faced off against Tillis in three debates, had already declined this summer the invitation for a fourth debate.
But that didn’t stop Republicans in the state from pouncing on Hagan’s decision not to appear, saying in statements that she “skipped” the debate.
“With her campaign in full-panic mode, it’s telling that Sen. Kay Hagan skipped tonight’s debate,” Tillis’ campaign manager Jordan Shaw said in a statement. “”The empty chair in Kay Hagan’s place tonight is symbolic of her record of failing the people of North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.”
The state GOP’s Chairman Claude Pope, Jr. suggested in a statement that Hagan didn’t “show up for work” in declining to participate in the debate.
Third-party candidate Sean Haugh did not clear the channel’s 15% polling threshold to participate in the debate.
Tillis used the hour to answer questions on his record and to attack his Democratic opponent’s positions. And while Hagan wasn’t present for the debate, her campaign fired off several emails during the non-debate slamming Tillis’ answers.
And her campaign knocked Tillis in a press release Tuesday.
“Kay enjoyed participating in the three debates she had with Speaker Tillis, and from those debates, as we saw tonight, it’s clear Kay is the only candidate in this race who will put North Carolina’s best interests first, Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in the release.
Two North Carolina newspapers that were slated to join in questioning Tillis opted out after the TV station decided to put an empty chair next to Tillis.
“Sen. Hagan declined to participate, and in our view that was a missed opportunity for voters,” Charlotte Observer Executive Editor Rick Thames said according to the paper. “But we came to interview the candidate who did appear, not to convey an opinion about the one who didn’t.”