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Republican candidates for governor face off in debate

DANIELS — Four guys vying to be West Virginia’s next governor fired verbal shots at each other, declared themselves to be the most effective conservative and offered glimpses into policy positions that would affect the lives of state residents.

Tuesday the Republican candidates stood at podiums on stage in the ballroom at Glade Springs Resort, one of the properties owned by Gov. Jim Justice, the two-term incumbent that they hope to succeed. The debate, hosted by the Raleigh County Republican Executive Committee, unfolded before a packed crowd that sometimes cheered and applauded.

Over an hour and a half, the debate hosted by broadcaster Hoppy Kercheval rollicked across topics like the economy, education and roads — and sometimes took detours into who supports former President Donald Trump the most.

Far more than prior gatherings, this one featured digs and barbs by the candidates — three-term Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, two-term Secretary of State Mac Warner, former House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito and automotive dealer Chris Miller.

The candidates generally expressed conservative bona fides, potentially a key feature in a state trending solidly Republican.

Warner, citing his Army service and his faith, countered that “this isn’t about being the most conservative. This is about serving the people of West Virginia as governor.” He added, “I’ll be the next governor for the state of West Virginia, and I’m not for sale.”

Morrisey followed by saying, “I’m not shy at being a conservative” and described being pro-coal, pro-life and pro-Trump. Offering a line he would repeat over the course of the night, he said, “I think West Virginia needs a proven conservative with a record of getting things done.”

Capito, son of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and grandson of former Gov. Arch Moore, described himself as a sixth-generation West Virginian who said the future of the state is personal to him. He, too, offered a line he would repeat again and again: “I am the get-it-done conservative in this race, and I have delivered.”

Miller, son of Congresswoman Carol Miller, touted his business experience. He came back to that theme many times, describing business experience as practical and saying government should be run by business principles. “I walk the walk because there’s nothing more conservative than being available in a free market to support jobs and the economy,” he said.

The family connections were an undercurrent of the night. At one point, after Capito criticized Morrisey for his handling of opioid settlement dollars and said the state’s share could have been more, Morrisey responded, “Quite frankly Moore, I didn’t listen to your mom who recommended I settle on the cheap.”

Miller piped up and said, “You don’t talk about somebody’s mom that way.”

Warner tagged in and jabbed Morrisey’s professional biography as a D.C. lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry. “Patrick Morrisey has been deceiving West Virginians,” he said of his counterpart on the state’s Board of Public Works. “Folks that’s not the way we do it here in West Virginia.”

As the debate turned to economic issues, Miller said his administration would move to eliminate the personal income tax on day one “and that’s going to put more money back in people’s pockets.”

Warner, who later said a day one income tax elimination would be unrealistic, said his economic emphasis would come through educational attainment. “Education. Education. Education We’re going to fix education,” he said. “We’re going to get West Virginia off the bottom of the stack nationally.”

Morrisey suggested different regions of the state have different needs, and he proposed a “backyard brawl” for the economy with surrounding states.

Capito described foundational conservative principles and noted that “there are a lot of people in southern West Virginia who feel left behind.” He emphasized public safety and said success there would “bring people here in droves.”

Warner questioned why that approach hasn’t led to greater success already. “Why haven’t we gotten it done yet, Moore?” he asked. “Why aren’t we getting these things done if you’re going to do so much better as governor?”

Capito cited legislative nuts and bolts such as right-to-work policies and last year’s big income tax cut. “It’s starting to work,” he said. “We’ve gotten things done and as your governor, we’ll continue to get things done.”

A question about COVID vaccines, developed during the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, drew perhaps the biggest audience reaction. The question was about whether the candidates believed the advice of public health experts and the current governor, who promoted vaccination.

When Miller called COVID-19 a “scamdemic” and said “my family’s not vaccinated,” he received vigorous applause.

Warner described getting shots as a matter of routine in military service, elaborating on a mindset of trying to make sure the individual doesn’t get the group sick. He said he got COVID shots as part of that tradition.

Capito didn’t specify his own choice but said, “We want freedom to make our own decisions.”

Morrisey described his office’s role in legal battles against COVID-19 mandates. He said, “This is a decision that’s left to the individual” and then added, “I didn’t take the shot.”

Another big audience reaction came during a discussion of the death penalty. Most of the candidates described openness to capital punishment, with Morrisey and Warner specifying that they would want safeguards against wrongful executions.

Miller went beyond the scope of the original question and drew applause and a whoop when he said “I think pedophiles should be executed.”