It’s already getting chippy between the Jim Justice and Bill Cole campaigns, even though we don’t know whether the General Election for governor of West Virginia will be a match-up between those two.
Last week at least two national publications, including Politico and the National Journal, ran a story saying the Republican Governor’s Association was doing opposition research on Justice’s coal operations. Justice is leading Senator Jeff Kessler and Booth Goodwin in the Democratic field, according to the most recent MetroNews West Virginia Poll.
The publications cited a letter from RGA consultant Terry Cooper to a West Virginia law firm to try to find “individuals with first-hand knowledge of Justice’s companies’ deceptive and unsafe practices who are willing to go on the record and tell what they know for films that would be shown on television.”
Cooper’s letter adds, “The first film crew will be on site shooing on March 29-31, so time is a factor.”
Justice campaign officials were anxious to make media in West Virginia aware of the story. One Justice supporter said he thought the timing of the opposition research suggested the RGA may be thinking about running attack ads early to try to influence the Democratic Primary.
RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said they have “not announced any plans to run any TV ads in West Virginia, so for the Democrats to say otherwise as fact is misleading on their part.” He added that “numerous West Virginians have come to us with their stories of how Jim Justice and his companies have personally, financially or physically hurt them.”
The Justice campaign also alleged that Cole campaign adviser Kent Gates “connected with” a former Greenbrier Resort employee, who was then hired by a Republican research firm to “dig up dirt” on Justice. Gates responded saying he had talked to the former employee by phone a couple of times, but “The Cole campaign is not conducting any research into any of the three Democratic candidates for Governor.”
Gates added that, “Last fall the Justice campaign was spinning a story to Eric Eyre of the Gazette on hourly wage disputes at Bill Cole’s dealership.” Eyre says the tip on the story, which never ran, did not come directly from the Justice campaign, but rather from a Democratic operative who supports Justice.
Justice campaign spokesman Grant Herring shot back: “Bill Cole’s failed legislative session didn’t create one job, and now he is playing gutter politics by attacking a proven job creator in the Democratic Primary.”
The fact is that every viable campaign with the resources, or with support from organizations that have the money, has the benefit of opposition research. Once considered the dark arts of politics, the research and the use of potentially embarrassing information about the opponent is now a mainstay of the political process.
This contributes to much of the hectoring between campaigns–a task usually assigned to spokesmen and advisers rather than the candidates themselves. Typically the rhetoric gets hotter as the stakes get higher.
The contest between Cole and whoever the Democratic nominee is has already been identified as one of the top governor’s races in the country, so get ready for a tumultuous year.