Justice, Salango face off Tuesday in likely only debate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Salango on Tuesday will debate each other for the first and probably only time before Election Day.

The debate between the two comes following polls, including the MetroNews West Virginia Poll, showing Justice leading Salango.

Justice is seeking a second term as governor and his first election victory as a Republican; he took office in January 2017 as a Democrat before leaving the party in August 2017. Salango joined the Kanawha County Commission in February 2017 when he was appointed to succeed state Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy. Salango was elected to a full term in 2018.

Justice enters the debate the favorite; more likely voters who participated in the MetroNews West Virginia Poll believe Justice will do a better job handling the economy, coronavirus pandemic and reopening of schools than Salango.

The poll also notes 54% of poll respondents approve of Justice’s performance as governor compared to 35% of people who disapprove. Thirty-three percent of participants approve of Salango’s job performance, while 30% of people disapprove and 37% of respondents are not sure.

In the MetroNews West Virginia Poll, Justice leads Salango 53% to 34%.

“It’s not a surprise to me that Gov. Justice has the lead,” pollster Rex Repass said on Friday’s “MetroNews Talkline.”

“He has the benefits and the risks of incumbency. He’s well known. With Ben Salango, he’s not well known. Even though he is a Kanawha County Commission, he is not that well known statewide.”

Poll results released Monday show 42% of respondents saying the state is heading in the right direction compared to 44% of participants who said West Virginia is on the wrong track.

A WMOV-AM/Triton Polling and Research poll released last week showed Justice leading 48.4%-37.6%, while a Strategies Unlimited poll had Justice over Salango 46%-40%. West Virginia First, a pro-Salango committee, requested the Strategies Unlimited poll.

“At this point, we feel like Ben is in striking distance and it’s a much closer race than your numbers indicate today,” Salango campaign manager Grant Herring said Friday.

Salango pushed Justice to take part in five debates. The governor, who did not debate his primary election opponents, rejected the invitation.

The West Virginia Broadcasters Association is hosting Tuesday’s debate. MetroNews’ Hoppy Kercheval will serve as the moderator.

Multiple television stations will air the debate starting at 7 p.m.:

— West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
— WVVA-TV in Bluefield
— WVFX-TV in Clarksburg.
— WQCW-TV in Charleston.
— WOAY-TV in Oak Hill.
— WTAP in Parkersburg.
— WTOV-TV in Stubenville, Ohio
— WDVM-TV in Hagerstown, Maryland.

WCHS-TV in Charleston, WOWK-TV in Charleston, WTRF-TV in Wheeling, WBOY-TV in Clarksburg and WVNS-TV in Beckley will show the debate on their websites.

MetroNews will provide coverage on many of its stations as well as its website, https://www.wvmetronews.com.

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