CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The upcoming Oct. 4 gubernatorial election has turned into a tale of two West Virginias.
In acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's West Virginia, the state is on the right track and poised for progress after two decades of sound fiscal policies that now set the state apart from much of the rest of the country.
In Morgantown businessman Bill Maloney's West Virginia, the state is on the wrong track and has to find a way to dig itself out of last place in business and economic ratings.
With 27 days left until Election Day, the race to be the next governor of West Virginia could hinge upon which of those pictures voters agree with.
The two were interviewed by the Daily Mail editorial board Tuesday.
Tomblin, the Democratic Party nominee who has served in the state Legislature for 36 years, said policies he helped craft have turned the tide in the state.
"We have been able to move this state in the right direction over the last several years, especially in the light of the national economy and the recession," he said.
Tomblin said many other states are now dealing with the kinds of problems West Virginia dealt with in the 1980s, when poor fiscal management drove the state to the verge of bankruptcy.
He said state officials made tough decisions then that are now reaping benefits, leading to improvements in the state's credit rating and setting the stage for cuts to business and sales taxes.
"We've been able to turn our state around and put it on a positive path," Tomblin said.
But Republican nominee Bill Maloney sees things differently.
"I don't see a rosy picture," he said.
Maloney pointed to things like the state's shrinking and aging labor force and statistics like 49th in per capita income and 46th place in a recent CNBC survey of state business climates.
He said the state's legal climate and tax structure are driving away business investment. In turn, people are leaving the state.
But Tomblin said those statistics don't capture the recent progress the state has made.
"There are a lot of good things, and I think if those same reports would ask West Virginia business CEOs why they're here or why they're expanding, I think you'd get a different picture," he said.
Tomblin said while per capita income is low, both the cost of living and cost of doing business are also very low in the state.
He also pointed to companies like Macy's and Amazon.com that have recently decided to open facilities in the state, as well as the potential to get not one but two natural gas "cracker" facilities, as they're called.
He said development could create thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector, which has suffered heavy losses in recent decades.
"I'll bust my butt every single day to make sure we do get those back," he said.
"I think West Virginia is moving in the right direction, and I want to continue to move it in that direction," he said.
But Maloney said the special tax deals the state has made with companies like Macy's benefit only a select few companies. He said the system as a whole needs to be changed.
"We missed the Reagan Revolution in West Virginia," he said, referring to former President Ronald Reagan's economic agenda. "We've got to go back to those basic principles."
That includes reducing regulations on businesses and simplifying the tax code. But he said his No. 1 priority would be legal reform.
It's a position where he and Tomblin found common ground.
Both men said they favor creating an intermediate court of appeals to allow for an automatic right of appeal for circuit court decisions.
Tomblin said the only stumbling block with lawmakers was how to fund the new court system, and he was hopeful they could work that out.
"I'd be happy to work with the Legislature on that to see what we can do," he said. "But it's very clear in my opinion that you should have a right to appeal."
Maloney went further, saying he would call a special session to force the issue this year.