On the eve of North Carolina’s first day of early voting, Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican challenger Lt. Gov. Dan Forest debated issues from health care to taxes to hurricanes. But much of the debate centered on their most contentious disagreement: how to handle the coronavirus.
Although Cooper is leading in the polls, he attacked Forest from the outset. The majority of polls show Cooper leading by at least 10 points, and a WRAL survey released Wednesday had him up by 13 points.
Face to face for the first time, they debated face masks and schools. Cooper defended his mask mandate against Forest’s claims that they are not proven to be effective. Forest argued that children should return to classrooms, and Cooper defended his phased reopening.
During the hour-long debate, which was sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, they also clashed on how fast Cooper was reopening the state’s economy.
“Talking about masks is a great cover for what he really doesn’t want to talk about, the over million and a half people that he has left unemployed,” Forest said.
“You’re not just ignoring science, you’re ignoring common sense,” Cooper replied. “You cannot wish the pandemic away.”
Forest acknowledged the threat of COVID-19 for older people and those with underlying health conditions. He emphasized the danger the pandemic poses to people in nursing homes and the state’s most vulnerable residents. “That’s where we should be spending all of our time and attention,” he said. “We should allow healthy people to get back [to] life.”
He said children are 17 times more likely to be impacted by the flu than coronavirus, a claim PolitiFact has rated mostly false.
Cooper countered that protecting the most vulnerable people requires cooperation from everyone. “The problem is, Dan, you treat nursing homes like an island,” he said.
“When you have people out there discouraging masks, when you have people out there trying to prove that there’s not a pandemic, then you end up having more people who are infected. It could be a nursing home staff member [or] a visitor,” he said.
Above: Plexiglas wasn’t the only thing that separated Roy Cooper from Dan Forest in the gubernatorial debate. (Screenshot from WRAL broadcast.)