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Wise, Underwood bicker over ads

by Randy Coleman

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHARLESTON -- The attacks started in the second sentence of Wednesday night's gubernatorial debate when Gov. Cecil Underwood accused U.S. Rep. Bob Wise of running ugly and false television ads.

Recent advertisements by Wise, the Democratic nominee, "build fear" when West Virginians need hope, Underwood said. And when Wise insists Underwood has not done enough to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for seniors, "he insults me and every other senior citizen," Underwood said.

Wise waited until the conclusion of the debate, but he countered with the same point.

"This has been a high level of debate. It's been a good debate. Unfortunately, that's not what's been filling your air waves," Wise said.

While West Virginia's economic growth rate is less than 2 percent compared to the rest of the nation's 5 percent, Underwood wants to discuss abortion, same-sex marriages and "the Ten Commandments, which I love as much as the governor," Wise said.

Recent Underwood ads have said Wise voted against bans on some late-term abortions, for benefits for same-sex couples and against posting the Ten Commandments on public walls.

Wise says Underwood's ads are "not truthful."

Wednesday night's debate at the West Virginia Cultural Center, which was televised statewide, was sponsored by the West Virginia Broadcasters Association.

Representatives from television and radio stations directed questions to candidates, who had three minutes to respond.

The opposing candidate was given one minute for rebuttal.

Underwood and Wise had appeared together by themselves only twice during the campaign, at forums sponsored by the West Virginia Hospital Association and the state Chamber of Commerce.

Three third-party candidates -- independent Denise Giardina, Libertarian Bob Myers and Natural Law Party candidate Randall Ashelman -- were not asked to participate in Wednesday's debate.

During the debate, Wise accused Underwood of failing to either remove or control the growing number of video poker machines in West Virginia. Wise has proposed taxing the gray machines and using their revenue to fund a scholarship program that would provide free tuition for all students who maintain a "B" average.

Wise also said Underwood failed during this year's legislative session when he didn't negotiate a settlement between teachers and health care officials over how to fix the heavily indebted Public Employees Insurance Agency.

Underwood sent a letter to legislative leaders saying he didn't want a premium increase, then later proposed one, Wise said.

"It's a prime example of why we need new leadership," Wise said.

Wise said repeatedly, as he has throughout the campaign, that West Virginia is "not growing fast enough."

But throughout the debate Underwood defended West Virginia's economic growth, saying unemployment is down and there are more new jobs now than at any time in decades.

Underwood said the state's per capita income "would be better if the federal government hadn't called for a moratorium on mountaintop mining," a jab at a proposal Wise made in conjunction with a lawsuit filed by several environmental groups over the legality of some mountaintop mining practices.

Wise, as he has done often during the past few weeks, accused Underwood of mismanaging a federally mandated children's health insurance program.

Underwood said if Wise could find one child who has not been insured, he should let the administration know.

Wise pointed to an 11-year-old child in the audience, saying the child is eligible and hasn't been insured.

Wise also gave the toll-free Children's Health Insurance Program number and said, "that's the first television advertising you've seen for the program."

Giardina and about 50 of her supporters -- one dressed in a bright yellow chicken suit -- protested outside the Cultural Center before the start of the debate.

"This is a public event held on public property. But the Broadcasters Association is a private organization and the Democratic and Republican parties are private," Giardina said. "This is really outrageous."

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