CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A week ago, candidates for West Virginia's new 8th Senate District were talking about pro wrestling and sexually explicit comments posted on a website message board a decade ago.
On Wednesday, Democrat Joshua Martin and Republican Chris Walters stuck to issues outside the squared circle -- roads, education and health care.
Last week, Martin accused Walters' camp of "blackmail" -- trying to force him to withdraw from the Senate race by circulating copies of explicit comments that were posted under Martin's former wrestling alias from 2001 to 2003. Some comments degraded teen girls, the mentally handicapped and women with breast cancer.
Martin acknowledged he had written many of the posts, but he said former writers for a West Virginia-based wrestling show had penned the most offensive and vulgar comments.
During a meeting with Gazette editors Wednesday, Walters said his campaign did not distribute copies of the message board posts, which were delivered to several media outlets in recent weeks.
"I don't know who passed it around," he said.
Martin only briefly addressed the controversy, saying he agreed to play the role of "Chris Sterling" -- a character wrestling fans were supposed to hate -- at the request of the wrestling show's promoter.
"He looked at me and said, 'You're a good-looking guy,' " Martin recalled. "The wrestlers were characters. If you don't agree to play the role, you can't wrestle."
The topic next turned to state highways -- specifically how to pay for them as federal funding erodes.
Martin suggested that the state tap tax revenues from natural gas production in the Marcellus shale to help pay for roads and bridges.
"We have an increasingly more expensive highway system," he said. "Without roads and bridges in this state, West Virginia can't compete."
Walters said corporate sponsorships could help the state pay for road construction and repairs.
In Louisville, Ky., he noted, Kentucky Fried Chicken sponsored a program to repair the city's potholes. The KFC logo was stamped into the fresh pavement.
Walters also suggested that the state could fund highways with up to $100 million in annual tax revenue that's now being used to pay off the state's workers' compensation debt. The state expects to retire the debt in three years.
In addition, Walters said the state could redirect sales tax revenues on car repairs, putting the money into a special fund to pay for highways.
Walters said he would support putting a statewide highway bond issue before voters.