Sen. Joe Manchin faced off against competitors John Raese and Bob Henry Baber for his Senate seat Tuesday evening at a debate hosted by the Shepherd University M.B.A. Program and the American Cancer Society.
Manchin, a Democrat, hopes to hold onto his seat during the Nov. 6 election while Republican Raese works to move into the position as does Baber, a member of the Mountain Party.
During an approximate 90-minute debate, the candidates answered questions posed by a panel made up of Hans Fogle, WEPM Radio, Mark Kraham, WHAG-TV, Craig Bartoldson, The Journal and Heather Greenfield, Shepherd University Picket. The panel posed questions in five areas: jobs, energy, healthcare, education and the environment.
During opening statements, Raese landed on a football analogy which pitted Manchin as part of a team with President Barack Obama as the quarterback and Harry Reid as a prominent player. Raese returned to the analogy repeatedly throughout the night contesting that Manchin must vote according to the wishes of his team (the Democratic party).
Manchin chose to argue that he was not a member of any such team.
"The only team I belong to is Team America and Team West Virginia," Manchin said.
When discussing the issue of jobs, the candidates were asked what type of tax policy would help the American people. Manchin explained a three-prong approach he favors known as the Simpson Bowles plan. Raese called for an elimination of "Obamacare" which he contended would raise taxes rather than lower them. Baber shared that he believed West Virginia should capitalize on the tourism industry and diversify the state economy.
A follow-up question on the economy issue had Fogle asking Raese how he, if elected, would interact with President Obama if the president retained his office.
"I would be his worst nightmare," Raese said.
A prevalent topic in Tuesday's debate focused on coal and the issues surrounding the production of West Virginia coal. Raese alleged that President Obama has been forcing coal out.
"The current administration is anti-West Virginia," Raese said. He called for increased free enterprise and a downsize to government to help the coal industry.
Manchin explained his battle with the Environmental Protection Agency where he sued the EPA under the 10th Amendment. Manchin explained his view that all forms of energy must be developed in West Virginia.
Baber shared the opinion that the problem West Virginia coal producers face is not necessarily government but competition from Wyoming.
"West Virginia coal is in decline because Wyoming produces more," he said.
The issue of healthcare drew fire again from Raese who called for the need to repeal "Obamacare." He expounded that 83 percent of the doctors in the United States would not continue to practice if Obamacare remains in effect. He did not site where that number came from, but said that the biggest incentive to continue providing the greatest healthcare in the world would be competition.
Manchin agreed that the "Obamacare" bill is not a perfect solution; however, he maintained that the bill should be repaired, not repealed. He shared that he has been working across the aisle in the Senate to address issues in the bill that need to be reformed or repaired.
Beber chimed in supporting universal healthcare.
"To me, healthcare is a right," he said. "It is wrong that people should go bankrupt if they get sick." Beber agreed that the U.S. Has the greatest healthcare, but only for those who can afford it.
A discussion on education policy had Raese advocating for the disbanding of the Department of Education as well as the establishment of a voucher system so that parents could choose to send their children to a private school Manchin agreed that private schools are a good thing; however, he said that individuals should not acquire private education by taking away from the public system.
Beber called for additional funding especially to help college age students. He cited the "nightmare" that the current administration inherited from President George Bush that has hurt the education system.
In addition to abolishing the Education Department, Raese advocated for the dissolution of the EPA and the Department of Energy as well.
"We have state agencies to handle these things," Raese said. "What do the government agencies do? They terrorize business," he continued.
Beber called for increased regulation especially on coal and on the marcellus shale project.
"We need federal regulations," he said.
A final question posed by moderator Cecelia Mason, West Virginia Public Radio, had the candidates move from domestic to foreign issues with regard tot he attacks on Americans in Libya and Egypt.
All agreed that a look needs to be taken at providing aid to foreign governments who then attack this country. That is where the agreement ended with Manchin calling for a cautious move forward .
"We need to protect America but we need to have relationships also," he said.
Raese contended that direct terrorism needs to be addressed now. He called for an increase in military spending to "protect U.S. Citizenry and sovereignty."
Raese's battle cry for the evening focused on less government and the removal of "Team Obama" as he continually referred to the current administration. Manchin, on the other hand, believes that America, while not able to give everything to everyone, is the hope of the world and a place where dreams can still come true. Beber chimed in that he represents the working class in West Virginia, the common people.
"We need common people," he concluded.