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The funny, sad and weird of all those candidate meetings

For more than a month, the other editors and I have been hunkered down in our usual pre-election meet-the-candidates, grill-the-candidates daily meetings.

The meetings give us a chance to hear from them in person before we make our endorsements.

I know what some of you are thinking: What's the use? The Gazette always endorses the Democrat, right?

Not always. Just ask Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, who we are backing in the 39th District.

Sometimes our picks are easy and obvious -- Obama instead of Romney, Tomblin over Maloney. But others are tough.

Take the circuit judge and sheriff's races in Putnam County. All four candidates would be good choices, which is a nice problem to have for the people of Putnam.

In both of those races, our endorsements came down to experience -- not political party. The sitting judge, Robert Leslie, who was appointed earlier this year, has already distinguished himself, and Bud Lett has excellent credentials to fight the county's drug problem.

As our endorsement list plays out, it's true that it will lean heavily Democratic. That's because it's hard to ignore candidates who stand for many of the same things that you read every day on our editorial page -- things like workers' rights, environmental protection, responsible development, health care for all, etc.

Unless you are one of those mythical "undecided" voters, we realize we're probably not going to change your mind in the major races. But, oftentimes, the smaller races are just as important to daily life in the Kanawha Valley, and we hope our input helps you decide on the most worthy candidates.

As always, some of the meetings were pretty routine. But some crackled with acrimony or downright weirdness.

Here are some of the highlights -- or maybe I should say lowlights -- from this year's round of meetings:

• U.S. Senate candidate John Raese left before the meeting started. He took one look at Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber, announced that he was "not going to be in the same room with that guy" and promptly left. (Baber had offended Raese in an earlier debate by calling some of his statements "bull----.")

I was kind of disappointed that he left, personally. You never know when John is going to say something outrageous.

• Attorney General Darrell McGraw ignored handshake offers from challenger Patrick Morrisey -- twice. Plus, after one of Morrisey's answers to our questions, McGraw noted that when he was a boy they had a word for certain people -- "motor," which he explained was short for "motor mouth." Later, after another Morrisey answer, McGraw could be heard softly muttering "mo-tor ... mo-tor."

• Morrisey informed me that he wouldn't respond to "gotcha" questions when I asked him when he was admitted to the bar in West Virginia (it was earlier this year, by the way).

• In the surreal ex-pro-wrestler race for the 8th District Senate seat, Democrat Josh Martin, who wrestled under the name "Silver Bullet Chris Sterling," espoused what can be described only as trickle-down economics -- that old Republican favorite.

• We thought it was refreshing when Chris Walters, Martin's Republican opponent, said he would support adding sexual orientation to the state's hate crimes law. Most all GOP candidates say "no" to that one. "It's generational," the youthful Walters explained. (Days later, he recanted, saying he didn't recall the question being asked.)

• Secretary of State challenger Brian Savilla said one of his most memorable accomplishments from his single term in the House of Delegates was his unsuccessful effort to return paddling to our schools.

• Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin disappointed me when he told us "he's not 100 percent convinced" that humans play a role in the warming climate, but at least he didn't call climate change a "hoax," like challenger Bill Maloney did.

• Putnam assessor candidate Peachie Arthur announced that it was a "fluke" that he lost the last election to Sherry Troyer Hayes, who visibly cringed at the remark. When asked to explain, he laughed -- uproariously -- and then said the Obama effect hurt him as a Democrat.

Honestly, doesn't the president have enough to contend with without getting the blame for the Putnam assessor's office going all red-state? Byers is the Gazette's executive editor.


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