CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Voters will get a few opportunities to see West Virginia candidates debate this year - but not enough, said some of the challengers hoping to unseat incumbents.
Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican challenger Bill Maloney have one public debate scheduled. That's the West Virginia Broadcasters Association debate on Oct. 9.
The debate will air on TV stations across the state, as well as on stations in Steubenville, Ohio, and Hagerstown, Md., which both have significant West Virginia audiences, said Michele Crist, association executive director.
Both the Maloney and Tomblin campaigns said they pushed for the inclusion of Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson.
Crist said the association is producing a news event as it always has and is not including Johnson.
She said time quickly adds up. With time for questions and time split between the two candidates, she said voters would hear from each candidate for only about 20 minutes apiece.
"It sounds like an hour is a long time - it's not," Crist said.
Johnson decried the decision, as he has done during past runs for governor when he was excluded from debates.
"I think that it's really against everything that the press should be about, and the Broadcasters Association presents itself as the press," Johnson said Wednesday.
"I think it is basically endorsing two out of the three major parties, and it is an illegal campaign contribution, in-kind, to two of the competitors who share almost identical views on almost everything."
Maloney sent the association a letter in early August seeking to include Johnson.
"While I don't necessarily agree with his views, I believe that Mr. Johnson and the Mountain Party bring a unique viewpoint to the political discourse in West Virginia," Maloney said in the letter.
Tomblin campaign spokesman Chris Stadelman said the Tomblin campaign also verbally requested Johnson be allowed.
Former TV personality and public relations executive Charles Ryan will moderate the broadcasters' debate.
Crist said it was hard for stations to agree on a working broadcast journalist to moderate the debate. That's because stations would have to air a debate hosted by a competing station's journalist. Last year, MetroNews Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval moderated the Tomblin-Maloney special election debate.
This week, the Maloney campaign accused Tomblin of dodging two additional debates in the Eastern and Northern panhandles.
The Tomblin campaign said the broadcasters' debate would be available widely on TV and radio.
In the attorney general's race, Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey has repeatedly challenged incumbent Democrat Darrell McGraw to debates. At one point, Morrisey wanted 55 debates - one in each county.
"I don't get into debates about how to enforce the law," McGraw told the Daily Mail last week.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Republican John Raese are set to debate on Oct. 2 in Shepherdstown, according to the Raese campaign.
Earlier this month, Kent Leonhardt, Republican candidate for state commissioner of agriculture, challenged Democrat competitor Walt Helmick to a telephone debate.
The call was open to reporters around the state, who were invited to listen in and ask questions. Helmick did not phone in, however.
The phone debate was the Leonhardt campaign's latest request for a public forum with Helmick. According to a campaign press release, Leonhardt sent three letters and even called Helmick directly, trying to set up a debate.
"He's making it very clear he does not want to talk about the issues," Leonhardt told the Daily Mail.
He said he appeared at a few events with Helmick during the primary campaign, when Helmick was still seeking the Democrat nomination for agriculture commissioner.