Gubernatorial debate focuses on COVID, education, protests

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, left, and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest participate in a live televised debate moderated by Wes Goforth at UNC-TV studios in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH – In their only debate of the 2020 general election, Gov. Roy Cooper and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest spent an hour outlining their plans and criticizing the others’ job performance over the past four years.

Cooper repeatedly came back to familiar talking points – such as following science and data – while blasting Forest’s positions on masks.

Forest, in turn, said he would protect vulnerable populations while allowing healthy people to get back to work.

The lieutenant governor also said he would open schools immediately, instead of just the K – 5th grade plan Gov. Cooper approved after restricting the options to Plan B and Plan C in July.

One of the most memorable exchanges occurred on the topic of protests and riots.

“We need to listen to people and lift up their voices for equality and justice,” Cooper said, and attacked Forest’s use of footage from an out of state protest in a television ad.

“The governor said we should reject violence, destruction and looting, but while he was locked in his mansion two blocks away downtown Raleigh was being destroyed. The governor had the ability to call out the National Guard and he didn’t do it,” Forest countered.

Cooper tried to pivot to his record as attorney general and attacked the spring ReOpen NC protests, alleging that they were supporters of Forest and called law enforcement officers “pigs” and burned masks.

“That’s the most bizarre comment I’ve heard, my supporters in the streets calling police officers pigs?” said Forest incredulously, adding, “those aren’t my supporters governor, they’re yours, the ones you walked through before they rioted and looted downtown Raleigh while you had that little mask dangling around your ear, not around your face,” said Forest.

The two candidates also clashed over school choice and Medicaid expansion.