Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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November 9, 2012

Senate race: Two gentlemen stood out amid the mud of the election season

— — Mud-slinging is, unfortunately, now the norm for candidates at almost every level in American politics. However, one election race in our part of southern West Virginia stood out in particular for its civility and mutual respect.

That race was waged in Senate District 6 between the apparent winner, Republican businessman Bill Cole, and the incumbent senator, Democrat Mark Wills.

I was assigned to cover the end of that race on Tuesday night, and was grateful that each of them took the time to provide some thoughtful comments via telephone on what made their campaigns tick, and what they thought of each other.

Given the many election stories going into Wednesday’s edition, it soon became clear that space would not permit an in-depth look at the candidates’ views. Such a look is still worthy of some space here. It shows a dynamic of respect between the two men for each other, while at the same time shedding light on their strong beliefs about what their political party could be doing for their constituents.

Cole noted that both he and Wills ran clean campaigns, free of negative ads and dueling press releases. He observed how their television commercials often seemed like “bookends” of decency around the other ads that sought to tear down the character of opposition candidates.

“It was nice that we stood apart in that respect,” Cole said on Tuesday. “Mark’s a great guy. ... I’m proud to know him.”

Wills said, “I don’t think there was anything negative in our campaigns. ... I wish Bill Cole the best and I congratulate him on his victory. But because of his party, I don’t think he’ll be able to help Mercer County.”

The Princeton-based attorney went on to explain that Mercer County’s residents voted “pretty much completely Republican. ... I’m assuming at the top of the ticket, the people didn’t like President Obama, so I think they voted Republican all the way down the ticket. I think it will hurt Mercer County because the Democratic Party is the party in control (in Charleston).”

Cole, the owner of a successful auto dealership based in Mercer County, was unwavering in his on-message comments about the Republicans’ favorite themes this fall.

He talked about his experience as “a businessman and job creator,” and his desire to change the status quo of state government so that it will run “more like a business.”

As he talked to people along the district that includes all of Mercer County and parts of McDowell, Mingo and Wayne, “I found a lot of people are looking for a change,” he said.

“We have so much going for us, natural resources beyond belief,” he said. “But what we have to do, we have to get West Virginia off the bottom of all those lists you want to be on top of.”

“We are virtually last in ‘business-friendly,’ ” he said. “We want to make our state enticing for people who want to come here and relocate. We border Virginia, and Virginia ranks first or second in business-friendly all the time. We have to fix that. We have to level the playing field with surrounding states.”

“I don’t want to start my time as a senator out on a partisan basis,” Cole said, “but the fact that it’s a one-party state is what has to change. I do feel that there’s a change coming in the two-party system in West Virginia. It’s important to have everybody have a seat at the table.

“I’m excited to think West Virginia may be ... coming up from being 50th or 49th in every category that you’d want to be number one in.”

“I have awful high hopes,” he said. “I hope I’m part of the process.”

The debate between the two candidates, Cole said, was one of “simply the philosophical differences, that’s all. I tend to look at things through a business and job-creation prism, and his view was more of government in control and business as usual.”

One thing both candidates said, predictably, was that they and their supporters had been “working hard” through the campaign season.

Cole led Wills in the heavily Democratic county of McDowell. Cole said, “I spent a lot of time down there, in front of a lot of groups, did a lot of talks, a lot of face time. But, again, I didn’t do this by myself. ... I had a great group of people working with me.”

One of the hardest parts of being a journalist, for me, is talking to the losing coach — or unsuccessful candidate — after a hard-fought game or campaign.

It’s only human nature that the interviewee should be in a bad mood. Still, I feel that it’s my job to ask what appear to be the necessary questions.

Wills, whom I have known for years, showed graciousness and forbearance with his answers.

“I wish him the best,” he said about Cole, “and I will do anything I can to help any transition and I hope he does well for the citizens of Mercer County and the whole 6th District.”

Tom Bone is a Daily Telegraph sports writer and editorial cartoonist. Contact him at tbone@bdtonline.com.

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