The front-runners to replace the so-called “king of pork,” the late Robert C. Byrd, laid out decidedly different approaches Monday night to bringing the bacon home to West Virginia.
Republican industrialist John Raese complained that federal earmarks create career politicians in a bloated government and indicated he’d be reluctant to pursue public dollars for projects best left to the private sector.
“I don’t think it’s the best answer for the problems of West Virginia,” he said in the only scheduled debate with Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, aired statewide on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “I want to bring back the spirit of capitalism . . . to create the freedom of an individual.”
Raese contends that cutting taxes and easing regulations on business would be better for the state’s economy.
But Manchin said states depend on the federal government for key infrastructure such as roads, water and sewage lines, and broadband Internet access. Poor, rural states would suffer without government, he said.
“The free-enterprise system is not going to go there. They’re only going to go where the market is,” Manchin said. “And for all of us to have an opportunity there has to be a partnership. The federal government and state government should be your partner, not your provider.”
The candidates also clashed on federal healthcare reform, cutting taxes, and the federal minimum wage.
Manchin and Raese are running for the seat Byrd held for more than a half-century. Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson and Constitution Party member Jeff Becker are on the ballot, too, but the two front-runners are locked in a tight and bitter race that has national groups sinking cash into campaign advertising.
Raese, who has run for Senate twice, is chief executive of Greer Industries, which owns a radio network, a newspaper, steel, asphalt and limestone operations, a golf course, and Seneca Caverns.
Manchin is a popular governor serving his second term and known even by West Virginians who don’t follow politics closely. He is seen as comforter-in-chief to a state that witnessed the Sago mine disaster, which killed 12 men in 2006, and the Upper Big Branch explosion, which killed another 29 in April.
To overcome that, the Republicans are trying to make the election a referendum on President Barack Obama. Manchin is banking on his popularity and track record, telling West Virginians to trust he’ll be an independent voice.
Raese called the state of the nation’s economy “almost catastrophic” and focused heavily on creating a pro-business environment, saying he would push for less regulation and taxation of corporations. He also advocated making tax cuts for people who earn more than $250,000 permanent, arguing it would stimulate investment.
Manchin, however, said he wouldn’t “mess with or increase” taxes during a time of turmoil and touted his own ability to cut taxes by $235 million since he took office.
They also diverged on federal healthcare reform, which Raese called “pure, unadulterated socialism . . . the worst bill that has ever come out of the United States Senate and House.”
Raese said he would repeal the legislation entirely, complaining that it supplants what should be doctor-patient relationships with patient-bureaucrat relationships.
Manchin acknowledged problems with the legislation but said there are elements worth keeping, including provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
“There’s a lot of good in the bill that Democrats and Republicans can agree on,” Manchin said.
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