Updated Friday, July 31, 2020 at 1:42 p.m.
Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ben Salango says he has accepted offers to participate in five debates against Gov. Jim Justice. However, Justice's campaign has indicated that the Republican incumbent will take part in only one debate that has already been scheduled.
The one confirmed debate will be hosted by the West Virginia Broadcasters’ Association on Oct. 13. In a virtual news conference Friday, Salango challenged Justice to accept offers for the other debates.
“We're pleased to announce that we've accepted five debates and hopefully the governor will accept those invitations as well,” Salango said. “And we can actually compare his actions to my actions, his ideas and my ideas.”
Salango specifically took aim against Justice for how briefings on the state’s coronavirus response have been conducted.
“Since the Justice administration took over, he has made it a point to make the office less transparent to the media and to the public. His COVID-19 press conferences have turned into political rallies where he promotes his reelection,” Salango said. “He provides inaccurate information and then selects which reporters get to ask a question and then dodges the ones that he doesn't want to answer.”
Salango, an attorney and Kanawha County commissioner, also criticized the governor for not making quick use of more than a billion dollars in federal pandemic relief funds. He called on Justice to call the Legislature into a special session to let lawmakers have a say in how those funds should be allocated.
“Hopefully the governor will step up and do the right thing, even without a lawsuit. I mean, we've seen other states with similar constitutions bring in the Legislature to actually divvy out that money,” he said.
Justice’s campaign indicated they would not agree to additional debates against Salango.
"Today's political stunt is no surprise after polling this week shows that Ben Salango is losing this race by big numbers. It's not uncommon when a candidate is losing, and voters learn about their views to want to change the subject," said Roman Stauffer, campaign manager for Governor Jim Justice. "We were the first to accept the West Virginia Broadcasters Association debate, which will be broadcast statewide, and every West Virginian will have an opportunity to see the difference between Governor Justice and Ben Salango."
The general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 3.