Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Supreme Court seat looms large over 2nd Tillis, Cunningham debate

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- As Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham prepared for Tuesday night's second debate of their hotly contested and expensive race for U.S. Senate, Republicans in Washington shored up all the support they'll need -- to push through President Donald Trump's eventual Supreme Court pick.

In this first debate since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, the first question went to Senator Tillis: Was it a flip-flop when he helped block then-President Obama's election year Supreme Court nominee in 2016; but now vows to support President Trump's replacement for Ginsburg?

"President Obama was a lame duck president on his way out the door," Tillis said. "What we're talking about now is the role I play in the Senate. It's called advise and consent. President Trump deserves to send forth a nominee."
Tillis Democratic challenger sided with his party leaders arguing the nomination should be made by whomever wins the election Nov. 3.

"Voting is already underway here in North Carolina. And I think we need to hear from the people in our state," Cunningham said. "And the next Senate and the next president should take up the very consequential and very weighty issue."

'President Trump will nominate and I will support': Tillis on Trump's decision to fill Supreme Court seat

Tillis pressed Cunningham on whether he supported an idea being floated by some Democrats in Congress to retaliate against a Trump nomination by adding additional seats on the Supreme Court. A move that could be only be made if Joe Biden wins in November.

"Do you support the expansion of the U.S. Supreme Court?," Tillis asked Cunningham.

"I don't. And Justice Ginsburg herself said that nine justices was the right number, Cunningham said. "Let me be clear, I'm speaking to some of the voices in my own party now. We need to stop injecting partisanship into our federal courts."



For the second debate in a row Tillis was the aggressor -- supporting President Trump's talk of sending in federal troops to American cities to quell violent protests. Tillis accused Cunningham of siding with rioters over police.

"Our communities are less safe and these mayors and governors are failing their people," Tillis said. "I hope they do ask for help. And I do believe the president would help them. But Cal Cunningham seems to be on the other side with chants of 'abolish the police.'"
Cunningham interrupted, "Let me make something clear, I take a backseat to no one when it comes to keeping our communities safe."

WATCH: Senator Thom Tillis, Cal Cunningham trade jabs in 1st debate

Both candidates backed mail-in voting despite the president's rhetoric that it's a recipe for a "rigged" election. Cunningham used the question as a chance to blast Tillis' state house record on voting laws in North Carolina.

"When Senator Tillis was speaker of the house, he passed what was described as monster voter suppression legislation," Cunningham said describing a contentious 2013 voting law pushed through by Republicans. "When it was struck down by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the ruling said it 'targeted African American voters with almost surgical precision.'"

Tillis responded, "It was voter ID. 70 percent of the people in North Carolina think it's reasonable to request an ID at the time you're voting."

The latest Real Clear Politics average currently gives Cunningham a 4.4 point edge over Tillis. RCP is an average of ten statewide polls.

The two will meet for a third and final debate next Thursday night.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.