West Virginia leaders react to final gubernatorial debate before Election Day

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It was clear who won the second and final gubernatorial debate between Greenbrier Resort Owner Jim Justice and state Senate President Bill Cole, according to several West Virginia leaders.

For West Virginia Republican Party Chair Conrad Lucas, the answer was Cole.

“Jim Justice is a bad person. Bill Cole is a good person and a conservative leader, so I think the more folks who tune into the race will see a little more tightening and then we’ll see Bill Cole win comfortably on Election Night,” said Lucas on a special MetroNews Post Debate Show.

Justice had the lead, said state Democrat Party Chair Belinda Biafore. She said Justice laid out more specific plans on Tuesday night, compared to last week’s debate.

“I think that was a big complaint the last time that there was just too much generalization, too much generics and they needed to hear a little bit more of substance and little bit more plan,” said Biafore, also a guest on the show.

During the debate, held at Charleston’s Clay Center, Justice told the crowd he doesn’t plan on voting for Hillary Clinton or any presidential candidate. He said he would leave the presidential ballot blank. Biafore didn’t say that was frustrating to her party, but did say Justice and all Democrats are different.

“We got a big tent,” she said. “We have Democrats under our tent that are very conservative. We’ve got some moderates and we’ve got some very, very liberals. I think that Jim Justice’s main goal is to worry about his own race.”

Justice, talking to reporters after the debate, said he hopes “West Virginians won”, not just him.

“I hope that everyone can see you’re looking at a visionary versus a politician,” he said of his opponent. “I’m a doer, but I’m not a pipe dreamer.”

Cole was confident leaving the Clay Center. He said “hard work” is what it will take to win this election.

“Getting out in front of as many voters as we can. Quite frankly, Jim Justice has been non existent on the campaign trail. I’ve been out there every day virtually criss-crossing this state. He’s done a couple of fundraisers,” Cole said.

For Charleston resident Katonya Hart, there’s only one candidate fit to serve as West Virginian’s next governor and that’s Mountain Party candidate Charlotte Pritt. During and after the debate, Hart, Pritt and several of her supporters were outside the Clay Center promoting her campaign.

“She boldly and loudly says ‘black lives matter,’ but with that, she points out her own heritage as a Native American in the situation of discrimination and minorities,” Hart said as she held a Charlotte Pritt poster. “She’s been hit from every aspect. She has a plan for increasing those participating in government, participating even more into our tax base.”

Former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, who ran for the Democratic nomination in May, said he was paying more attention to the issues being discussed, rather than who beat who. He said he would’ve liked to hear more about 21st century business and how to attract and keep young people in West Virginia.

“I didn’t keep a score card because I was really looking for a true discussion of the issues,” Goodwin told MetroNews. “I think Hoppy (Kercheval) probably won tonight.”

The debate was moderated by MetroNews “Talkline” Host Hoppy Kercheval and was sponsored by the West Virginia Broadcasters Association and CityNet.

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, was glad to hear talks of how to preserve coal jobs in the state since his office has been working to do just that for the last few years. In his opinion, Cole is gaining momentum.

“From everything we see, this race is virtually tied and I think a lot of that’s attributed to the fact that as Bill Cole gets better known around the state, his numbers are growing,” Morrisey said.

In this year’s presidential race, Morrisey said the choice is simple. He said he understands why Justice, or anybody who lives in West Virginia for that matter, would not elect Hillary Clinton.

“You have to be against Hillary Clinton. You can’t mess around and try to be on the fence. Be against Hillary Clinton. That’s best for the state of West Virginia,” he said.

Cole, reacting to Donald Trump’s lewd comments about groping woman in a 2005 video tape released last week, told reporters what Trump said was wrong, but he still has his vote this November.

“I don’t excuse what said,” Cole said. “I have two teenage daughters. I was offended by what he said, but the choice is so clear if we’re going to move West Virginia forward.”

Election Day is Nov. 8.

Early voting is set to begin Oct. 26.

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