SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- The Mountain Party candidate for U.S. Senate said Monday he's eager to participate in a Shepherdstown debate and grateful for a last-minute invitation."Democracy is never meant to be a gated community," Bob Henry Baber said in a pre-debate statement that dismissed both incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican challenger John Raese as multimillionaire "Republicrats" too close to the coal industry.All three face off Oct. 2 at Shepherd University. The event is expected to last about 90 minutes.West Virginia Public Broadcasting will moderate the debate and air it Thursday at 9 p.m.Shepherd radio station WSHC will air it live.
Spokeswoman Tiffany Washington said that Baber asked last week to be invited after a previously scheduled Wheeling debate was canceled.Baber has no illusions of winning, acknowledging that "a vote for me is a protest vote." But he says "advocating for middle-class principles and environmental stewardship that would otherwise not be heard" is a victory in itself.The Mountain Party, which opposes mountaintop removal coal mining, represents about 1,300 of the state's 1.2 million voters. It's fielding perennial candidate Jesse Johnson in the West Virginia governor's race.Baber ran in last year's special gubernatorial election, held after Manchin was elected in 2010 to fill the unexpired term of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Manchin defeated Raese by 10 percentage points then and is now seeking re-election to a full six-year term.Manchin is a popular former governor and secretary of state. Raese is chairman of the board of West Virginia Radio Corp. and the MetroNews radio network, and chief executive of steel and limestone producer Greer Industries. Raese has lost four previous statewide campaigns, including three for the Senate.