CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate debate between Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the Democratic challenger, was predictably personal, as the two candidates faced off here Tuesday night.
On topics ranging from coal to the financial crisis, and from climate change to gun control as well as the minimum wage, the candidates sparred over the issues — much like their political advertising — consistently attacking each other on their respective records.
Tennant said she supports the coal industry, noting that she has asked President Barack Obama to use $8 billion already in the Department of Energy budget to retrofit coal power plants for carbon capture and storage which, she said, would create jobs.
Capito countered that the president’s policies are “out to destroy us” and the state’s coal jobs. The congresswoman said salaries in the state are “going down” because of those policies.
“These last six years we’ve been devastated,” she said.
Tennant said her opponent has been in Congress for 14 years, voting against the interests of coal miners.
“She voted against coal mine safety,” Tennant said. “She voted to cut funding (for) black lung benefits.”
Capito said that was not true.
In a heated back-and-forth, Tennant said Capito “broke the trust of West Virginians” by making money during the financial crisis because she had access to inside information “regular West Virginians didn’t have.” The secretary also said Capito had voted to give Wall Street executives bonuses after they had been responsible for the economic collapse in 2007.
Capito called the the statement a “personal attack that was unfounded, untrue and undocumented,” calling the accusation a desperate attack.
The congresswoman said she does support state banks and credit unions, voting no twice for bonuses for executives; however, she said a bill she did vote for was not just for executive bonuses, but was instead “broad-based” and applied to a number of workers in the industry.
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On the topic of climate change, Tennant said she didn’t believe “we need to choose between clean air and clean coal” and that she does not disagree with scientists who warn about the issue.
Capito said she didn’t think the climate is “necessarily changing,” but said we have to find a balance between protecting the economy and the environment.
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Both women said they support the 2nd Amendment, which grants citizens the right to bear arms.
Capito said she believes the mental health system has “failed us,” and that she has worked to make sure that those who shouldn’t have access to firearms don’t get them; however, she said she opposed Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and his bill that would have expanded background checks.
Tennant said she had also opposed Manchin’s efforts to expand background checks because “West Virginians should be making the choice.”
“We need to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and those with mental health (issues,)” Tennant said.
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“West Virginians deserve a pay raise, too,” Tennant said, noting that she supports a higher minimum wage.
Capito said she supported increased wages for the country’s lowest wage earners in 2007, but now wants to debate the issue.
“I believe we need to look at the ramifications of raising the minimum wage,” she said.
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The candidates did agree somewhat on immigration.
Capito said she did not support amnesty for undocumented workers, and that children from Central America who are crossing the Texas border need to be reunited with their families.
While Tennant agreed, she said a bipartisan bill that had been crafted in the Democrat-held U.S. Senate was held up in the Republican House of Representatives.
“We must secure the borders,” Tennant said. She said she also supported making those who are already in the country “learn English and pay taxes.”
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In the end, it came down to the recent Supreme Court decision not to take up the issue of same sex marriage, essentially meaning those marriages can be sanctioned by states.
Both candidates said they opposed same sex marriage, but would abide by the court’s decision.
“I want to be treated equally and fairly,” Tennant said. She said she supported equality and people being equal under the law, but would not be in favor of forcing a church to go against its doctrines.
“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” Capito said. “I will abide by what the state says in this matter.”
The debate was closed to alternative candidates Phil Hudok of the Constitution Party, J.E. Buckley of the Libertarian Party and Bob Henry Baber of the Mountain Party.
West Virginia Press Association Executive Director Don Smith said the organizers of the event set a standard for participation that said other party candidates “must have received at least five percent of the votes in the last general election, if the party ran a candidate.”
“That is a national standard used by AARP, a co-sponsor of the event, and was adopted by the organizers,” Smith said. “We hope this standard gives supporters of all political parties another rallying point this election.”
Smith said the standard would be in place for future events, as well.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting held a debate for the candidates who were not allowed in the sponsored debated.
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