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In debates, Republican Senate candidates shift focus to Obama

Sen. Kay Hagan, left, D-North Carolina, and North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis greet prior to a live televised debate at UNC-TV studios in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014.

AP Photo/Gerry Broome, Pool

With just a month before the midterm elections, Senate candidates in five states sparred about President Obama's policies, the economy, and women's rights on Tuesday night.

The debates were part of races both parties are counting on for victories - in Virginia for Democrats and in West Virginia for Republicans - and in closer races where both parties are hoping to win a seat from the other - Democrats from Republicans in Georgia, and Republicans from Democrats in North Carolina and Colorado.

Each race could ultimately decide whether the GOP will gain the six seats it needs to take control of the Senate in the next Congress.

Here are some highlights from the debates:

North Carolina: National vs. Local

In second debate between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Tillis tried to focus the conversation on the president, while Hagan drew attention to the conservative direction taken by the state's government during Tillis' time as state House speaker.

Tillis said the president's policies - "every single one of them" - are effectively up for a referendum.

"If you want the same failed policies of President Obama, you vote for Kay Hagan. If you think it's time to change the direction of this country and make it great again, I hope you'll vote for Thom Tillis," the Republican said.

Tillis repeated 10 times that Hagan's record shows she backs positions favored by Obama 96 percent of the time. "When you vote with the president 96 percent of the time, you represent the president's policies," he said.

"Speaker Tillis wants to make this race about the president," countered Hagan. "But this race is about is going to represent North Carolina in the US Senate."

The incumbent instead focused on the sharply conservative direction of the state Legislature, which Tillis has helped lead after Republicans won veto-proof majorities two years ago. "He wants to talk about percentages. I want to talk about percentages," she said. "A hundred percent of the time, Speaker Tillis' policies have hurt North Carolina."

She said GOP lawmakers have rejected a federally funded Medicaid expansion that would provide more people with health coverage, made cuts to education funding and reduced state taxes in ways that disproportionately benefit wealthier families.

"He has campaigned on an agenda to take that destructive agenda to Washington," Hagan said.

In a CBS News/New York Times analysis released Sunday, Hagan held a razor thin lead over Tillis, 46 to 45 percent.

Colorado: Focus on women's rights

Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and his challenger, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, clashed again over women's rights and reproductive issues.

In a state where female voters have helped Democrats win every top-of-the-ticket election in the past decade, Udall has tried to emphasize Gardner's support for so-called personhood measures that would give fertilized eggs the same rights as people - outlawing all forms of abortion and possibly some forms of birth control.

"Rep. Gardner has a long history of trying to limit women's reproductive rights," Udall said.

Gardner has disowned a personhood measure that's on the Colorado ballot this year, saying he does not want to limit contraception. But he is still the co-sponsor of a similar law in the House. He said he has remained a sponsor as "simply a statement that I support life." He said he wasn't sure if he would sponsor a similar measure were he elected to the Senate.

He also laughed off Udall's repeated jabs on women's rights, recalling that when his wife saw the first television ad accusing him of trying to limit birth control, she said, "Didn't you used to pick up my prescription?"

"It's simply outrageous to believe that someone would try to ban birth control," he said, according to the Denver Post.

As in other states, the Republican tried to tie the Democrat to President Obama, but Udall wasn't having it.

"I just want to remind Congressman Gardner he's running against me, not Barack Obama, not my father, not Harry Reid," Udall said, according to the Post.

The debate at The Denver Post was the second of three the candidates will have this week. The race is currently neck-and-neck: in a CBS News/New York Times analysis released on Sunday, Udall was up 48 to 45 percent.