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Republican Walters wins seat from Senate 8th

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In a contentious race in the state Senate's redrawn 8th District, Republican Chris Walters was poised to defeat Democrat challenger Joshua Martin on Tuesday night.

With 83 of 87 precincts reporting in Kanawha and Putnam counties, Walters had 18,359 votes to Martin's 16,303 votes.

"My opponent and I ran a very competitive race," Walters said Tuesday night. "I now look forward to working on issues in the Legislature."

During the bitter campaign, Walters and Martin locked horns over Martin's past as a professional wrestler.

A decade ago, sexually explicit comments were posted on a pro wrestling website message board under Martin's former wrestling alias, "Silver Bullet Chris Sterling." The comments degraded teen girls, the mentally handicapped and women with breast cancer.

Martin said the offensive remarks were posted by writers for the wrestling show.

Martin also accused Walters of passing out copies of the explicit comments to Charleston media outlets and Martin's employer, a Charleston law firm. Martin alleged that Walters' campaign tried to blackmail him and force him to drop out of the race.

Walters said he knew about the wrestling message posts but said his campaign did not distribute copies of the offensive comments.

Martin and Walters later traded barbs over Walters' position on gay rights.

Walters told Gazette editors that he supported adding sexual orientation to West Virginia's hate-crimes law. Martin called Walters a liar, citing a West Virginia Family Foundation survey in which he said he opposed legislation that would make "the homosexual lifestyle" a civil-rights status in West Virginia.

Walters clarified that he would not support a hate-crimes law that singles out gays.

Later in the campaign, Walters and his father, Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, assailed Martin's negative campaign ad that used photos of Chris Walters when he was a teenager.

One of the photos -- taken from Walters' former MySpace Web page -- showed Walters pointing to a tattoo on a shirtless man's shoulder. The commercial's narrator alleged that Walters had "waffled" on the gay-rights issue.

Walters also criticized Martin for sending out a "robocall" last weekend that called Walters a liar for saying Martin supported raising West Virginia's gas tax. Martin said he never supported raising the fuel tax.

On Monday night, Walters said he would now work hard for residents of the 8th Senate District.

"I was very optimistic getting into the race, and I'm very humbled by the voters in the district," he said.

In another hard-fought Senate race, Republican Mitch Carmichael was leading Democrat Mike Bright in the 4th District late Tuesday night.

With 91 of 104 precincts reporting, Carmichael received 17,717 votes to Bright's 16,722 votes.

The 4th District covers Jackson County, and parts of Putnam, Mason and Roane counties.

Bright is Jackson County's sheriff and a retired State Police trooper. Carmichael is a six-term member of the House of Delegates and an executive with Frontier Communications.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, ran unopposed for the 17th District Senate seat. Palumbo serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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