DAVIDSON —  N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, of Cornelius, kept his answers set on his experience and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan during an April 22 debate against fellow GOP U.S. Senate contenders Greg Brannon, Mark Harris and Heather Grant.

During the event held at Davidson College, members of the media as well as residents questioned candidates on issues, such as gun regulations, the Affordable HealthCare Act, ways to educate youth and minimum wage.

The four were invited to participate based on an average of three credible poll results to determine who met the 7 percent qualifying level. Jim Snyder, Edward Kryn, Alex Lee Bradshaw and Ted Alexander will join the four on the primary ballot. One-stop voting starts April 24, though the official primary is May 6.

Tillis touted his tax cuts, balanced budgets and regulatory reform as reasons he should take his Raleigh leadership to Washington D.C. In his responses, he bashed Hagan’s actions concerning the Affordable Care Act and Medicare, saying he’s spent the last three years “cleaning up her messes.”

During the debate, Brannon kept his competition to the table, taking jabs at Tillis, such as saying it was under Tillis’ leadership that the educational program Common Core came to practice in North Carolina. The curriculum that is supposed to standardize subject matter nationwide was refuted by all of the candidates, who said education should not be cookie-cutter and is best handled by local teachers and parents.

Later, Tillis again showed support for localized education by saying the U.S. Department of Education is something the country could do without. Harris agreed with Tillis, but also added the departments of energy and commerce, which he believes have too many regulations stopping job creation. Grant said she would get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency because “who knows better what the state and local areas needs are than the state EPA.” Brannon named four agencies to end, including health and human services, education, the Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Service.

Brannon and Tillis went at it again when Tillis called Brannon out for not specifically answering a question about whether convicted felons or people with a mental illness should be allowed firearms.

“The fact that it sounds like he said yes is irresponsible,” Tillis said when Brannon responded that the federal government shouldn’t infringe on Second Amendment rights and that local and state law should take care of violent criminals.

Brannon used his time in a later question to go back and say that he wasn’t saying convicted felons should have them, but rather the federal government doesn’t have the right to decide.

Both Tillis and Brannon have endorsements from leading gun organizations, which they each felt trumped their opposition’s. Harris and Grant stayed out of the scuffle, saying convicted felons should have limitations regarding gun laws, but that mental illness needs to have a clearer definition.

During the other questions, the candidates agreed on the need for securer borders to stop illegal immigration. They also agreed on the need to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They said minimum wage is not a cookie-cutter topic and should not be raised across the board because it could cause layoffs in the state.

The packed audience included members of all ages. Some came showing support for specific candidates. Others were on the fence.

“I thought I had my mind made up, but now I have to go muddle it over,” said Shannon Walbone of Concord.