Facing the possibility of striking down a well-intentioned law seemed to worry McHugh.
McHugh said "this case does not deal with what this court thinks, obviously," he said, citing necessary deference to the U.S. Supreme Court. Later he said he was "sympathetic" to Loughry's argument.
Allen, who called herself a friend of Loughry's, said she was in a "terrible situation" to be opposite of Loughry in the case and she repeatedly threw up her hands when asked to justify the U.S. Supreme Court's logic -- the same logic she was relying on to make her case.
A federal court is also considering another lawsuit from a former Democratic Party chairman that seeks to strike down the rescue funds provision. Even if the state Supreme Court sided with Loughry, he could face further obstacles because of the federal case.
Ketchum wondered how reducing the appearance of bias for Loughry did anything to change the way the public would view Chafin, Davis and Republican Circuit Court Judge John Yoder, a fourth candidate in the race.
"How does giving the state money to Mr. Loughry eliminate the appearance of bias in this election?" Ketchum asked Skaggs.
Ketchum answered his question with another question just a few moments later.
"No matter how much money the state gives Mr. Loughry, isn't there still the appearance of bias on those three candidates who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars?" Ketchum said.
Skaggs argued back that candidates who sought private donations relied on "favor-seeking money" to finance their campaigns, something Loughry doesn't have to do.
The same argument surfaced a bit later in an exchange between Allen and Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Wilkes, who was sitting on the high court by special assignment.
Allen argued the public financing program now makes it look like those who participate in it are clean candidates and that those who do not are corrupt. If Loughry won, she argued, the public would view the other non-publicly financed candidate suspiciously.
"I think you've actually made the problem worse," she said.
"Or 50 percent better," Wilkes said.
The court's justices informally settle upon a justice to lead questioning and that justice can end up writing the majority opinion. On Tuesday, McHugh seemed to lead questioning, though Ketchum just as frequently got into exchanges with lawyers.
The length of the hearing was unusual, as was the composition of the court.
Davis, Benjamin and Justice Margaret Workman all recused themselves from the case, citing conflicts of interest. Davis, of course, is running. Loughry works for Workman as a clerk. Benjamin said he and Loughry discussed the public financing law several months ago.
Wilkes, Harrison County Circuit Court Judge J. Lewis Marks Jr and Ohio County Circuit Court Judge James P. Mazzone temporarily replaced the three justices on the court.
Loughry is being represented by Huntington-based law firm Nelson Mullins and lawyers from the New York-based Brennan Center, a group that supports efforts to reform the campaign finance system.
Loughry also sued Treasurer John Perdue and Auditor Glen Gainer, arguing they should release his money. Lawyers for both briefly got up Tuesday to tell justices they had no stake in the case and have no opinion on its outcome. The Supreme Court justices did not ask them any questions.Contact writer Ry Rivard at ry.riv...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryrivard.