CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The national organization that helps elect Democratic governors already is looking for ways to defeat GOP candidates Betty Ireland or Bill Maloney should either win the May 14 primary.
The Democratic Governors Association called GOP households last week to try out a couple of negative messages about the two frontrunners, a spokeswoman confirmed. The association is hoping to find an effective tool to defeat the Republican nominee in the Oct. 4 general election.
"We tested a variety of messages against both candidates; I can't go into detail about them, but all with the purpose of being prepared to hit the ground running on May 15," said DGA spokeswoman Lis Smith.
As Saturday's election quickly approaches, a previously sleepy race has turned into one filled with attacks and counterattacks. By Tuesday, it was hard to tell who was saying what about whom and who fired first.
Democrats already were going after each other, but now the Republicans are in the throes of a negative campaign, too.
Morgantown businessman Maloney and former Secretary of State Ireland's campaigns began trading barbs. Maloney's campaign called Ireland, the last Republican to be elected statewide in West Virginia, a "liberal" in a radio ad.
Ireland's campaign, in turn, is saying Maloney "has yet to come out with any ideas for West Virginia" in an automated call to Republican households.
The ad war between the two began over the weekend. The Maloney camp said the Ireland camp started with a negative automated phone message they first learned of on Saturday. But the Ireland camp says that's absolutely not true and none of their ads or calls mentioned Maloney until Monday.
What is for certain is that by Saturday evening, Maloney's campaign was making automated calls. A recording of one of those calls provided by the Ireland campaign had Maloney's campaign charging Ireland was a career politician, "even working for liberal Gov. Bob Wise."
That's a reference to the time she was executive director of the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board, a position she took in late 1998, when Republican Cecil Underwood was governor.
Valerie Phillips, Ireland's campaign manager, said the Ireland campaign began robocalls Tuesday.
"She's issued a 28-page policy plan," Phillips said. "Bill Maloney has yet to come out with any ideas for West Virginia. He is now attacking her because he has nothing else to say. We don't feel like that's an attack; we feel like that's a response."
Maloney spokesman Matt Dabrowski said the Maloney camp was only responding to her.
"This is an example of more hypocrisy from the career politicians," he said. "They may have brought a knife to a gunfight, but they still pulled the knife first."
GOP Chairman Mike Stuart, who is remaining neutral until after the primary, said there was nothing unusual in the campaigns' tit-for-tat in the final days of the campaign.
"I can assure you that we are going to have a very united Republican Party moving forward," Stuart said.
He said attempts by the Democratic Governors Association to test negative messages on Maloney and Ireland were a good sign for Republicans.
"Clearly they are concerned that West Virginia is no longer going to be a blank check for the Democratic Party," Stuart said.
DGA spokeswoman Smith did not detail the calls, but state Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, was among the Republicans who received one. He said it came to him Friday evening from a Mannington telephone number.