Justice, Salango making pitches to NCWV in campaign’s homestretch

Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 5:26 PM EDT
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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va (WDTV) - They’ve only appeared on a debate stage together once. Now, they’re separately traveling across north-central West Virginia making their case to voters in the final days of the campaign for governor.

With just 11 days until Election Day, more than 10 percent of the state’s registered voters have already cast their ballots.

A WMOV Radio poll released Friday shows Gov. Jim Justice (R-W.Va.) with a 53.1% to 34.9% lead over his challenger, Democratic Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango.

A similar poll in September showed Justice with a 48.4% to 37.6% advantage.

“We’re really different in a lot of ways,” Justice said. “There’s so many things from my track record. My hair didn’t get white for nothing.”

Salango is hoping voter turnout will help him close the gap and lead him to victory.

“I’m proud of my public service,” Salango said in an interview with 5 News. "I stand on my record. I’ll be able to get things done.

While Salango has campaigned in several corners of the state, Gov. Justice has traveled the region in recent weeks in an official capacity, making various announcements at state parks and visiting Fairmont Medical Center staff on Thursday.

The hospital’s former parent company shut it down in March. WVU Medicine took over in June and is now operating the facility, the only hospital in Marion County.

“When it really boils right down to it, we have to have our community hospitals,” Justice said at the medical center standing alongside WVU Medicine CEO Albert Wright.

The two worked after the hospital closed to move WVU Medicine into the facility.

But Salango said Justice acted too late.

“We saw what was going on at Fairmont Regional Medical Center,” Salango said. “We knew there were issues, but the governor waited until after it shut down to do anything about it.”

Salango’s hospital plan involves changing the way they’re paid through Medicaid.

Meanwhile, Justice touts his work with West Virginia’s economy and budget since taking office as a reason voters should elect him to another four years in office.

“The results are phenomenal on what we’ve done,” Justice said. “We walked in the door, we were bankrupt. Today, we’re cooking and really doing well - record after record after record.”

Salango said he wants to grow the north-central West Virginia economy and help it boost the rest of the state as part of his regional economic plan.

“We want to continue to make north-central West Virginia an economic engine for the entire state,” Salango said. “We’ve got to do all we can to promote what you’re doing well.”

Justice has framed Salango as a trial lawyer and has criticized his record of suing businesses.

“My opponent makes a living using these people,” Justice said at Fairmont Medical Center. “Really and truly I make a living creating jobs. That’s what I’ve done and making successes out of stuff. There’s a clear-cut difference and everything.”Salango has previously responded by saying he stands up for the little guy, answering questions about his law practice during the only gubernatorial debate by flipping the script on Justice.

“Yeah, I’ve practiced law for 22 years,” Salango said. “This governor has been sued over 600 times for not paying his bills. He has more courtroom experience than I do.”

If he wins, Salango said he will staff the governor’s office with experts and not “play politics as usual” by filling open positions with campaign donors.

But as for who is on his team responding to the pandemic, Salango said he’s not sure if he would transition to new people.

He spoke highly of Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar appointed by Gov. Justice, and other longtime state employees.

“I think Dr. Marsh has done a great job,” Salango said. “I respect him as a physician and I respect him as a leader. The transition team - we’ll make those decisions after November third. There are some really good people in state government and, definitely, we wouldn’t want to get rid of them. We want to make sure there’s a good base of knowledge. It’s hard to replace the people who have been it.”

Justice won his primary election bid in a landslide with 62.7% of the vote. He thinks this upcoming election will be a similar story.

“We’re not going to win this thing by just a little bit, we’re going to win this thing by a landslide,” Justice said.

Salango said his campaign’s polling suggests he can take the race if early and absentee voting trends continue.

“We’re excited for it,” Salango said. “We’re going to come across the finish line on November third and we’re going to beat Jim Justice.”

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