The two major party candidates for U.S. Senate sparred over the minimum wage and equal pay for women during a Thursday meeting with Daily Mail editors. Meanwhile, the three third-party candidates in the race said they present an attractive alternative to the typical Republican-Democrat divide.
All five candidates running for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., met with the Daily Mail editorial board Thursday. It was the first —and likely only — time all five appeared together ahead of the Nov. 4 election.
Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, finishing her seventh term representing the state’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, is widely seen as the odds-on favorite in the race. Recent polling gives her an 11- to 23-point advantage over Democrat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
She said the state needs to send a Republican to the Senate to help break the gridlock and block the policies of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“I’m asking West Virginians to send a powerful voice to the United States Senate,” Capito said.
Tennant, however, discounts the polls and said she stands a good chance to win on Election Day.
“I’m going to win this race because the people of West Virginia are going to speak and they’re going to speak for their values,” she said. “It’s not the Wall Street dollars that are going to win.”
Meanwhile, three other candidate will appear on the ballot: the Mountain Party’s Bob Henry Baber, Phil Hudok of the Constitution Party and Libertarian John Buckley.
Baber, 63, is an English professor at Glenville State College and former Richwood mayor. Hudok, 64, has taught science for the last 38 years in Randolph County schools. Buckley, 61, of Hardy County, is an attorney and recently retired from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, where he worked as a chief of staff and law clerk to the chief judge of the court.
The third-party candidates mocked the Capito and Tennant campaigns, saying the two are virtually equal in their major positions.
“The whole campaign has degenerated into who loves coal more, and who dislikes Obama most,” Baber said. “It’s infantile and it’s disingenuous.”
“The campaign has largely been ‘Blah, blah, blah coal’ and ‘Blah, blah, blah Obama’, which I think has degenerated to not serving the public,” Buckley said. Hudok said there’s no real difference in the major parties’ stances. Both were for big government and reckless spending and support policies that encroach upon citizens’ liberties.
“This country’s gone crazy,” Hudok said. “Our forefathers would just turn over in their graves.”
The West Virginia airwaves have been flooded with a seemingly unending stream of negative attack ads from the two major party candidates.
Capito’s ads attempt to tie Tennant to the policies of Obama and national Democratic leaders — all of whom are deeply unpopular in the state. Tennant likes to portray Capito as a lapdog for Wall Street banks. Both deny the charges and claim they try to put the needs of West Virginians first.
Both also defended their advertising, saying that while they’d prefer to talk about their records, voters should know what the other stands for.
“I’m proud of my record and proud of my vision,” Tennant said. “At the same time, West Virginians deserve to know what the record of Congresswoman Capito is.”
Capito characterized Tennant’s attacks as “desperate attacks by desperate people.”
“I’ve been as positive about my record — I have a record, that’s the difference,” Capito said. “I have a 14-year record of voting and taking the hits.”
Tennant said people around the state are struggling to make ends meet, which is why she would support raising the minimum wage to the $10.10 an hour rate proposed by President Obama.
Capito said she has seen studies saying raising the minimum wage to that level could cost the economy 500,000 to 1 million jobs. She said she was open to looking at increasing the minimum wage, but wanted to do it in a way that helps the most people.
“I don’t want to see people working at a minimum wage,” Capito said. “That why I think the bigger emphasis should be on having a minimum wage that moves people up through the system to higher wages.”
Tennant said she supports measures like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act to help close the wage gap between men and women.
“I will vote for equal pay for equal work,” Tennant said.
Capito denied Tennant’s claim that she is against equal pay. She said equal pay for equal work is already the law of the land and should be enforced.
“I’m acknowledging we’re falling short here in terms of the equal pay for equal work,” Capito said. “We don’t need a trial lawyer bill that opens up the ability to litigate, we need to actually enforce and make sure that women are paid exactly equal pay for equal work.”
Tennant sharply rebuked Capito on the matter, saying statistics show the state is falling behind in wage equality.
“You can say that it’s the law, but why is West Virginia at the bottom of the list?” Tennant asked Capito. “Why do we make 66 cents for every dollar and why is the wage gap so wide?”
Tennant asked what Capito suggested be done to help close that gap.
“They need an economy that’s growing where government is not into your life, overtaxing you, and over-regulating you,” Capito said. “You need a leader that can say we’re going to provide opportunities so that when you graduate from wherever you are you do have that opportunity and you don’t have a government that’s driving West Virginians out of work.”
When asked who they voted for in the last presidential race, Capito said, “I voted for Romney, as did all 55 counties in this state.”
Tennant said, “I voted for the Democrat Party, but I am as angry as everyone else is about Barack Obama and his attitude toward West Virginia and his attitude about coal.”
All the candidates agreed there was too much outside money coming into the race. However, they disagreed over whether lawmakers should do something to counter the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case.
Baber said the ruling, which helped open up independent political spending from corporations, unions and other organizations, has “absolutely gutted our democracy.”
Tennant and Baber said they would vote for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling.
Capito, who said she was outspent by her opponent seven-to-one in her first Congressional race, said the best remedy is to open up transparency with campaign giving.
“I agree with you, there is way too much money in politics ... I think that the best way to get rid of that is to fully disclose, within 24 hours, every single contribution that comes in,” Capito said.
Buckley said repealing Citizens United or enacting stricter campaign finance laws would actually hurt third-party candidates, by hindering their ability to raise funds from private donors. He said the problem wasn’t with donations, but rather the political favors lawmakers give to corporations once they are in office.
“The solution is not to eviscerate the First Amendment, the solution is to get the federal government out of the business of being able to offer favors to those in our economy,” Buckley said. “The problem is too much government. If we didn’t have the government making all these big decisions in the economy, there would not need to be the incentive for everyone to throw money and buy their favorite politician.”
Baber said he supports strong environmental policies and diversifying the state away from dependence on a coal economy. He favors ending mountaintop removal mining.
“If you support a green candidate and a candidate who’s for the people, I might be your man,” Baber said.
Hudok said the nation needs to get back to the principles of the Constitution and roll back policies, such as Common Core education and mandatory student vaccinations, that interfere with people’s freedoms.
“To me it comes down to the Constitution,” Hudok said. “We have to come back to the rule of law and what really counts and made this country great — our Christian heritage — and we’ve left it.”
Buckley said libertarianism — which is founded upon a philosophy of fiscal conservatism and social liberty — is gaining traction in the U.S. He said people are tired of being forced to choose between Republicans and Democrats and said the Libertarian Party presents a good middle ground.
“People are fed up with politics as usual,” he said. “I’m running to win because I think my ideas are good and I think the public likes them.”
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4836.