Senate candidates may duel in debate

Published 5:48 pm Thursday, September 23, 2010

Staff Writer

An incumbent state senator indicated he’s open to debating his election-year challenger, if time allows.
Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, of Manteo said he would like to debate his Republican opponent, Hood Richardson of Washington, provided he can make room on his schedule.
“My handicap is I run in two elections,” Basnight said during an interview Wednesday.
Basnight is Senate president pro tempore, a leadership position he has held since 1993. He has served 13 two-year terms in the Senate.
“That being said, I have to travel North Carolina quite a bit, not just my district,” Basnight related, adding his itinerary included Wake and Orange counties on Wednesday.
“If I’m not re-elected president of the Senate, my effectiveness will shrink to something we will not recognize,” he said.
Basnight is ranked No. 1 in effectiveness in the Senate by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, a Raleigh think tank.
The center rates state lawmakers through a biennial survey of lobbyists, legislators and capital journalists.
“I do not want to be distracted away from what is the leadership of the Senate,” Basnight remarked.
Richardson, a Beaufort County commissioner, recently challenged Basnight to a series of debates across Senate District 1, which encompasses eight northeast counties, including Beaufort County.
Pointing to his crowded calendar, Basnight responded to Richardson’s challenge by agreeing to a limited exchange hosted by the Washington Daily News.
“Maybe if Hood would agree, if I could find some time, some vacant time, he and I could debate at your office,” Basnight told a reporter.
The senator said he wants voters to know there are differences between the candidates.
“I want to show the difference,” he said.
In response, Richardson said he was hoping for “a more public debate.”
Told that the debate would be accessible to other media if the two candidates met at the Daily News, Richardson said, “The door is certainly open to that.”
He added he would agree to debate Basnight at the Daily News, provided the session were taped for public broadcast.
“The door’s kind of wide open with me on the rules,” Richardson stated. “You know me, I say the fewer rules the better.”
The candidates were left to decide how and when they would like to debate.
Though Basnight is widely considered a safe bet for re-election, a number of Republicans are predicting GOP gains in the state Senate in November, and possible encroachment on the incumbent’s unrivaled power.
In the interview, Basnight acknowledged eight Democratic Senate seats are vulnerable this year.
“And we work those eight,” he said.
Currently, the Democrats have a 30-20 advantage in the state Senate. Basnight suggested this lead could shrink to 26 or 28 Democratic members after the election.
“Is it possible that I lose? Yes,” he said. “Is it likely? No. If I do my job and other members do their job, we should win.”
One factor in election 2010 is the growing influence of “527” groups that use corporate money to advocate for their causes, Basnight said.
“This is a different competitor than America has ever seen, and they spend a lot of money,” he said.
According to, 527s are tax-exempt entities that are permitted to “raise money for political activities including voter mobilization efforts, issues advocacy and the like.”
Open-elections advocates and politicians on both sides of the aisle have complained that 527s don’t have the same rigid campaign-finance disclosure requirements as candidate committees or political action committees, making their donors harder to track.
“I go out to convince others to raise money all across North Carolina,” Basnight commented. “I want to be re-elected president of the Senate and, if not, a lot is at stake, I believe, for my district, for North Carolina.”