Democrat Jim Justice and Republican Bill Cole, West Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates, conducted their second and final debate Oct. 11 in Charleston. While the men represent disparate views of how government should function, they seemingly neglected strong explanation of how their positions and policies would affect the function of government.
Neither Cole nor Justice landed a decisive or game-changing blow.
Justice’s and Cole’s personalities vary widely — a point driven home both stylistically and physically by the candidates.
Justice carries with him an avuncular manner. He is man whom you could imagine seeing at a family function. His gesticulations, choice of language and physical movement during the debate contributed to that folksy feeling.
Cole, however, was not afraid to contrast Justice by letting out his inner policy wonk. Cole clearly set out to back his points and suppositions with facts and figures, but when his calm, collected demeanor was paired with his carefully limited physicality, he risked appearing robotic, which made Justice seem even more affable.
Nonetheless, Cole stayed on course, and his attacks against Justice for being without specific plans were eventually bolstered by his experience as a statesman.
Viewers of the recent presidential debates may be pleased to hear the event was an ably moderated debate between two gentlemen. There were little or no fleeting interruptions or snarky retorts.
Justice did take a moment to compliment Cole on his sun tan positing that Cole likes to play and Justice likes to work.
Cole had a real chance to take the high road at this moment, but he later chose to counter Justice’s attack saying his busy campaign schedule was responsible for his tan.
Cole also lamented his campaign and the duties thrust upon one of the most powerful men in the state had limited him to only two rounds of golf this year.
Those remarks left Cole seeming as out-of-touch with “normal” West Virginians as Justice is alleged to be.
Cole hit Justice early and often for his perceived lack of specific plans for turning around the state’s economy.
The two spared hardest over the economy and, in this instance, true differences in policy positions were clearly defined.
Justice posited he hoped to solve the state’s budget crisis without taxing or cutting spending saying he would sweep existing accounts, dive into the books for other money, cut special interests, reevaluate the coal severance tax and take a $200 million bridge loan from the federal government.
Cole scoffed at the idea of taking a loan and explained he would cut regulations to spur business growth. Cole also noted he would reduce the number of the state’s 230 boards and commissions which oversee business and commerce.
Justice countered Cole had the reigns controlling the state’s representative bodies and posited Cole has the power to affect the change positive change for the state but has failed to do so.
Cole also hit Justice on reports his businesses owe $15 million in taxes. Justice replied that he may be a little late, but he is always at the party. Cole’s attack on Justice’s debts seemed sharp, but the idea that Justice’s business practices are sometimes questionable is baked into his candidacy.
It is hard to see where either man did the work to move the needle or attract other voters who may be considering voting for a third-party candidate.
If polling for the race continues on its current trend, the West Virginia gubernatorial race may end up being closely compared to the presidential race.