What's At Stake In Tonight's North Carolina Senate Debate

PHOTO: Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., left, and Republican candidate for Senate Thom Tillis participate during a live televised debate at UNC-TV studios in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Sept. 3, 2014.Gerry Broome/AP Photo
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., left, and Republican candidate for Senate Thom Tillis participate during a live televised debate at UNC-TV studios in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Sept. 3, 2014.

The Republican path to the Senate majority has met stubborn resistance in North Carolina.

While endangered Democrats are struggling across the map, giving Republicans confidence in the their ability to pick up the six Senate seats needed for control of the Senate, Sen. Kay Hagan has maintained a slim, single-digit lead over her Republican challenger, state House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Roughly a month from Election Day, Hagan leads Tillis by four points among likely voters, 44 to 40 percent, according to a recent NBC/Marist poll.

Tonight, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, chief anchor of ABC News, co-host of “Good Morning America,” and anchor of “This Week,” is set to moderate a one-hour debate between Hagan and Tillis. The debate, which is hosted by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation, will be aired live on television and radio stations throughout the state. It will also be streamed live on ABCNews.com, on the ABC News mobile app and on ABC News on Apple TV beginning at 7 p.m. ET.

Tillis, 54, has stuck to the Republican playbook. He’s depicted Hagan as a rubber stamp for the unpopular president, criticizing her support of Obamacare and the administration’s handling of ISIS and the Ebola virus. Channeling anti-Washington sentiments, he's accused her of being an ineffective lawmaker caught in Washington's dysfunction, criticizing her Senate committee attendance and legislative records.

With little room for error, Hagan, 61, has balanced the defense of her record with criticism of Tillis for the state legislature’s rightward shift. She's focused on controversial public education spending and Tillis' record on women's issues, which has helped her build a sizable lead among registered female voters, who outnumber men in the Tar Heel State.

Hagan has surprised many with her resilience, and she's also benefited from a sizable cash advantage that has allowed Democrats to flood the airwaves. Tillis has turned to national Republicans like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former Florida governor Jeb Bush to drum up support on the trail.

Tonight’s debate gives Tillis and Hagan a chance to build momentum for the final stretch of a race that remains too close to call, the kind of momentum that that outside spending and popular surrogates can’t buy. Turnout will be key come Nov. 4, and many voters are still searching for a reason to vote -- for and against -- the candidates on the ballot.

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