- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and her Republican challenger Thom Tillis largely support the plan President Barack Obama outlined to expand military airstrikes and help forces fight the Islamic State militant group.

But both candidates also criticize the Democratic president’s foreign policy, as they seek to assert their independence. Their comments come amid an acrimonious and lengthy Senate campaign in which overseas issues, so far, have played just a small part.

Hagan, the incumbent, said after Obama’s speech Wednesday night that she urged the administration last year to arm and assist moderate Syrian rebels - a statement Tillis’ camp panned as misleading. Hagan said she’s glad the effort will be hastened. The president authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria for the first time and expanded air attacks in Iraq

The Islamic State group “presents a severe threat to our national security, and their murder of two American journalists is an attack on America and our values,” Hagan said in a news release. She added that the U.S. is now “taking immediate, sustained, and decisive action to destroy ISIS,” employing a commonly used acronym for the group.

In his own statement, Tillis said that at a minimum, “we need to continue air strikes until the President can be assured that ISIS’ own enemies in the region will eliminate them on the ground.”

But Tillis said Obama has a failed foreign policy, which has worsened the crisis, and he blames Hagan for enabling it during the pair’s five-plus years in office. Obama and Hagan, the state House speaker said, “have been leading from behind, ignoring ISIS for too long, and the world is now less safe as a result.”

Hagan’s campaign took issue with Tillis’ comments, suggesting he’s not taking the threat seriously enough. “Issues of national security deserve more than talking points and political posturing,” campaign spokesman Chris Hayden said.

Hagan’s campaign provided comments that Hagan made in April 2013 when she asked defense and military leaders during a Senate armed service subcommittee meeting whether they agreed the U.S. should offer more support to “elements in Syria that share our views and interests.” She also raised concerns about extremist groups, including “al-Qaida in Iraq,” a former name for the Islamic State group.

Tillis’ campaign said Thursday that assisting moderate rebels in Syria wouldn’t have helped. It pointed to a general’s comment six months ago to the full Armed Services Committee offering no guarantee equipment given to moderates wouldn’t end up with Islamic State militants.

Hagan “is desperately trying to rewrite her failed record,” campaign spokesman Daniel Keylin said.

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