This strategy seems a little mystifying to me, too. Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan declined to participate in a Time-Warner Cable debate for the Senate seat she’s defending against challenger Thom Tillis, but that didn’t stop Tillis and the network from conducting a debate anyway. Tillis answered the moderator questions without any dissent at all from Hagan, whose empty chair got featured prominently by the organizers and Tillis during the broadcast. As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow points out, Tillis got to speak without any time limitations and essentially without challenge for a significant period of time — essentially transforming the program into a feature-length infomercial for the Republican candidate.

Maddow wonders what Hagan and her campaign could possibly be thinking:

The race isn’t just a toss-up; according to the RCP polling tracker, Hagan has led every poll but one over the past month, and that one had the race at a 40/40 tie. Tillis has tightened the race a bit to within the MOE, but still trails in the RCP average by two points, 45.6% to 43.6%.rcp-nc

 

If Hagan had a double-digit lead heading into the final two weeks of the campaign, skipping a debate might be a good damage-avoidance strategy. If she consistently polled above 50%, the same might be true. But neither of those conditions exist for Hagan. She hasn’t polled at 50% in all of 2014 except for two outlier polls, and her high-water mark in the RCP average was 46.2% when it included both of those outliers. The RCP tracking shown above also excludes a Survey USA poll from two weeks ago showing Tillis with a narrow 46/45 edge. Hagan’s in trouble, and even Maddow knows it.

Why skip the debate, then, and let Tillis own the stage? The Washington Free Beacon has a possible explanation:

Amid accusations of corruption and insider deals, Sen. Kay Hagan (D., N.C.) declined an invitation from Time Warner Cable to take part in a debate with her Republican opponent on Capital Tonight. Hagan’s empty chair was visible throughout the debate.

Many questions have been raised regarding taxpayer money being used to fund physical plant projects for companies owned by Hagan’s family.

That didn’t stop the Hagan campaign from offering a final bit of hilarious irony:

This is not your Clint Eastwood empty chair moment from the 2012 Republican National Convention — but it’s close.

Republican candidate Thom Tillis decided he would still show up Tuesday to a fourth North Carolina Senate debate — despite being opponent-less. And the state’s Time Warner Cable News gave Tillis an hour of statewide TV time, and left an empty chair next to Tillis. …

Tillis used the hour to answer questions on his record and to attack his Democratic opponent’s positions. And while Hagan wasn’t present for the debate, her campaign fired off several emails during the non-debate slamming Tillis’ answers.

The campaign that refused to show up for the questions complains about the answers? Puh-leeeeeze. At least Tillis puts in the time to face the voters. Kay Hagan has better things to do with her time, apparently.