NORTH CAROLINA -

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina is accusing Republican challenger Thom Tillis of taking the state backward by supporting tax cuts over help for students and women. Tillis says Hagan would be a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama, an approach he says doesn't work in the state.

The two clashed Wednesday night in the first of three debates in a key battleground in the fight for Senate control.

Tillis is one of the GOP's top prospects for helping gain the six seats required to win the majority. Two months before the election, polling suggests that the race is a toss-up. It's one of the most expensive Senate races in the nation.

Obama won North Carolina in 2008, but narrowly lost it to Republican Mitt Romney four years later.

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NewsChannel 12 and FOX Eastern Carolina will air two North Carolina U.S. Senate debates between Sen. Kay Hagan and Speaker of the N.C. House Thom Tillis. The first debate will air Wednesday night and the second will air next month.

Journalist Norah O'Donnell will moderate the first debate, which is scheduled to air live on Wednesday, Sept. 3 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on NewsChannel 12 and FOX Eastern Carolina.

George Stephanopoulos of ABC News will moderate the second debate, set to air live on Tuesday, Oct. 7 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on both NewsChannel 12 and FOX Eastern Carolina as well.

The two debates between incumbent Sen. Hagan (D) and Speaker Tillis (R) will be hosted by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation.

"We recognize that this year, the state of North Carolina will play an important role in the balance of power in Washington," said NCAB President Steven D. Hammel. "The Broadcasters of North Carolina have a long history of providing live, over-the air coverage of Senatorial debates. We're thrilled to have network journalists moderate and to provide a platform for the candidates to talk about the issues
important to the people of North Carolina."

Hagan is a first-term senator considered vulnerable in a state that Republican Mitt Romney won in 2012. She's turned the Senate race into a referendum on how Tillis has run North Carolina's Legislature as House speaker. He is an architect of the state government's Republican takeover.

Tillis has stuck to painting Hagan as an Obama Democrat, citing her vote for the president's signature health care overhaul.

The 2014 U.S. Senate election in North Carolina will be held on Nov. 4. In addition to Sen. Hagan and Speaker Tillis, Libertarian Sean Haugh is also a candidate.