Hagan responded by touting her moderate record in Congress, demanding more clarity from Tillis on what he would do in office if he were elected in November.
The two candidates met at the UNC-TV studios in Research Triangle Park for the second time this fall, sparring over issues such as the Islamic State, education policy, the Affordable Care Act and immigration.
The race has remained close in the polls — though Hagan has maintained a small advantage in most of them.
Rob Schofield, research director of left-leaning N.C. Policy Watch, said because of Hagan’s lead, the two candidates had different goals going into the debate.
“Hagan is trying to run out the clock,” he said. “Tillis is looking to land a knockout punch.”
“Tillis needs to go on the offense without being offensive,” said Mitch Kokai, analyst at the right-leaning Locke Foundation.
Several of Tillis’ arguments centered on comments Obama made last week, where Obama said his policies would be “on the ballot” in November. Tillis cited a frequently used figure that Hagan votes with Obama 96 percent of the time.
But Hagan defended her congressional record, noting that she was voted the most moderate U.S. senator by the National Journal.
“Speaker Tillis wants to make this race about the President. This race is about who is going to represent North Carolina in the Senate, and the people want a commonsense voice,” Hagan said.
On the U.S. response to the threat of the Islamic State, Tillis accused Hagan and Obama of creating the crisis in the Middle East and then failing to address the issue early on. Hagan countered that Tillis did not have a strategy proposal of his own.
One of the key themes in the campaign has been education — and in response to a question about the national Common Core standards, Tillis said he supports having standards, but he thinks the Department of Education often wastes taxpayer dollars.
Still, Hagan dismissed Tillis’ efforts on education, saying he has gutted North Carolina’s system.
She also spoke in favor of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to let stand five rulings striking down gay marriage bans — which will likely clear the way for gay marriage in several states, including North Carolina.
But Tillis accused Hagan of turning her back on the state.
“What North Carolina wants to do is something that North Carolinians should decide — not Sen. Kay Hagan, and not those in the federal government,” Tillis said.
Hagan then took shots at Tillis’ economic record.
“(Tillis) is sending our teachers to Texas, filmmakers to Georgia and our medical professionals to 28 other states. That’s his economic policy,” Hagan said.
During the last 15 minutes, the candidates asked each other questions — Hagan attacked Tillis not supporting an equal pay act in North Carolina, as well as his opposition to students refinancing their student loans.
Tillis questioned Hagan’s absence at 50 percent of scheduled meetings for the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
Hagan shot back with a correction, saying that she’s a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Hagan said she is still well informed on international situations. But Tillis returned to her attendance record.
He asked: “I wonder how much more information I would have if my senator would show up for work?”
Hagan and Tillis will join Libertarian candidate and Durham resident Sean Haugh for a third debate in Wilmington on Thursday, hosted by the N.C. League of Women Voters and WECT-TV.