The 8th District state Senate race has devolved into a debate over some degrading, vulgar message board posts that may or may not have been written by one of the candidates more than a decade ago.
Democrat Joshua Martin denies writing the offensive comments, which were posted on a wrestling-related message board in 2001 and 2002. He also said the coordinated release of the posts is part of a smear campaign designed to cost him the race and his job.
"This is politics at its lowest," Martin said Thursday. "I am a victim of extortion for something I did not write."
His opponent, Republican Chris Walters, said the posts are disturbing and should be something voters consider before making a decision on Election Day.
"Anyone who's seeking an office such as Senate, who has written things of this nature, should be held to a higher level of integrity and responsibility," Walters said.
Martin, 35, is the son of the late Delegate Dale Martin and current Delegate Helen Martin, D-Putnam. Chris Walters, 26, is the son of Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha.
Several local media outlets were given copies of the posts, which are dated between 2000 and 2002.
Prior to graduating from Marshall University in 2002, Martin worked for Xtreme Maximum Championship Wrestling, a local entertainment company.
The organization is similar to more popular national wrestling groups like World Wrestling Entertainment or the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling in that the physical action in the ring is part of an ongoing, scripted drama designed to entertain fans.
"The show had at least three writers who built the characters both in the ring and with online posts," Martin said.
He said one of those writers was Sherwood Spencer, who is now the brother-in-law of Chris Walters.
Martin portrayed the character of "Silver Bullet Chris Sterling," an arrogant, pretty-boy athlete who spent too much time at the gym and believed he was "God's gift to women."
"The show wrote the character as a bad guy," Martin said. "His job was to be hated by the crowd so that the crowd could sympathize with the good guys in the ring."
To promote the wrestling series, organizers used online message boards to develop story threads. The posts featured characters trash-talking one another, often in a vulgar fashion.
The story lines would play out in the ring during shows, Martin said.
Martin said he did sign a few posts, but those were usually asking when others would be working out at the gym or paying tribute to a fellow wrestler.
Some of the other posts attributed to his character depicted graphic sexual fantasies, linked to pornographic websites, or included demeaning comments about women or the mentally disabled.
One post made under Sterling's username described what he thought would be a good pornographic reality show: a series of men would have sex with one woman, and the one who got her pregnant would be declared the winner.
Martin insists he did not write any of the sexual or demeaning posts.
"Although I did post some comments, I did not write the offensive ones mentioned," he said. "At least six people had access to the account, including the show's writers. None of these posts reflect me personally or my beliefs."
XMCW co-founder Matthew Scheidler backed up Martin's claims Thursday.
"All that he said is true," Scheidler said. "Those posts are a part of the character and the act - that's all it was."
Scheidler started XMCW in 2001, building off the pro-wrestling craze that swept the nation in the late 1990s.
Scheidler said XMCW characters and storylines were modeled on some of the popular WWE characters at the time.