By Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Three Republican candidates for U.S. Senate spoke Thursday night to convince conservative voters that they’re best to challenge Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in November, saying they’ll fight to repeal the health care overhaul law and reduce the federal government’s role in daily life.

Cary obstetrician Dr. Greg Brannon, the Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte and Army veteran Heather Grant of Wilkes County participated in a forum along Lake Norman, not far away from the home of state House Speaker Thom Tillis, another candidate who didn’t attend.

While Brannon and Grant suggested impeachment could be ahead for President Barack Obama for overreaching with his power, Harris said if elected he would work with other Republicans to keep in check Obama, particularly on executive orders the president said during this week’s State of the Union address he was prepared to use if Congress didn’t cooperate. Brannon cited repeatedly the U.S. Constitution in prefacing responses to a dozen or so questions.

“We are applying for a job. We’re interviewing,” Brannon said at the start of the 90-minute forum attended by more than 160 people at a sports bar and restaurant. “We need constitutional leadership.”

Tills didn’t attend because he had a previous engagement in the Triangle, a campaign spokesman said. Tillis hasn’t attended at least two other similar candidate forums. His absence at the meeting of Lake Norman Conservatives wasn’t surprising - the forum’s moderator picketed outside a Tillis fundraiser in November in Charlotte attended by Karl Rove. Tea party and like-minded voters and some of Tillis’ rivals have suggested he’s not conservative enough.

Both Tillis and Hagan were barely mentioned during the forum by the participants, although an empty chair affixed with Tillis’ name sat alongside the in-person candidates. Brannon called Hagan a rubber stamp for Obama’s policies, while Harris said Hagan has joined Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by allowing Obama to drive U.S. foreign policy into the ground.

The three candidates said they would work to eliminate the federal health care law but provided few details about a replacement law except to promote more health insurance competition.

“You attack it from every angle that is moral, legal and ethical,” said Grant, a nurse practitioner, agreeing that the president had overstepped his bounds. She hoped there would be enough votes in Congress after the 2014 elections to take up impeachment articles against Obama. The moderator mentioned actions by the president on military powers, changing the health care law on his own and allowing some immigrants unlawfully in the county work permits.

“We need to stop a president who thinks that he can create law by simply signing a piece of paper and picking up the phone and telling somebody,” Grant said, “because he’s wrong, he’s wrong, he’s wrong.”

All three participants said the federal government should reduce its influence over public education, calling it a responsibility of the states. They all said they supported North Carolina’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that voters approved in 2012. Harris, a Baptist minister who was a chief supporter of the amendment, criticized federal judges for striking down similar amendment in other states.

“My hope and prayer is that we will see judges in this country continue to uphold the right of citizens to make those decisions and make those stands,” Harris said, adding that he would support federal action defending the rights of states on gay marriage should judges continue to overturn those amendments.

Brannon told listeners if he had his way he would phase out Social Security over time and privatize it or let states offer retirement plans. Grant said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished and responsibilities left to state and local governments, who know their region’s needs the best.

A fourth candidate expected to attend - radio host Bill Flynn of Forsyth County - announced Thursday he had withdrawn from the GOP primary, citing poor fundraising. Senate candidates must file fourth-quarter campaign finance reports by Friday.

Former Shelby Mayor Ted Alexander, who entered the race in January, attended the event, but forum organizers said he hadn’t built enough of a campaign yet to participate.

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