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Senate 8th race goes negative again

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Senate 8th District race, which pits Democrat Josh Martin against GOP challenger Chris Walters, just got nasty again.

Earlier this week, Martin's campaign started airing negative television ads that slam Walters for "waffling" on issues.

The ads include 9-year-old photos of Walters -- taken from his former personal MySpace Web page -- when he was a teenager. One photo shows a shirtless Walters, pointing to a tattoo on another man's back. The ad alleges that Walters has changed his position on gay rights.

"[Martin] grabbed a picture of me when I was a minor to make me look young," said Walters, 26. "That's kind of low."

Walters father, Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, called the Gazette on Thursday to complain about Martin's ad, which is running on three local television stations and several cable channels.

"It's not issue-oriented," Walters said. "It's trash."

Martin stood by the political ad Thursday, saying the 30-second spot is "100 percent true and accurate." He asserted that his campaign has every right to use Walters' MySpace photographs.

"He put that out there of his representation of who he is," said Martin, 35, of Poca.

The 8th District campaign turned ugly last month after Martin and Walters sparred over comments Martin had posted on a professional wrestling website a decade ago.

 Some of the comments -- posted under Martin's former wrestling name, "Silver Bullet Chris Sterling" -- were sexually explicit and degraded teenage girls, the mentally handicapped and women with breast cancer.

Martin denied posting any vulgar comments, saying writers for the wrestling show penned the most-offensive website messages. Martin also accused Walters' campaign of compiling the posts and hand-delivering copies to several Charleston media outlets.

Walters acknowledged that he knew about the website messages, but he said he did not distribute them to the media.

On Thursday, Ron Walters said Martin criticized his son's political supporters for making an issue of Martin's explicit website posts from 10 years ago, but that Martin didn't hesitate to use decade-old photos of his son in a negative political ad.

"Chris was 17 in one of those pictures," said Ron Walters, referring to his son's high school senior class photo. "It's not OK for us to go back 10 years, but it is OK for them to go back 10 years?"

Martin said Walters' complaints are baseless. Walters' campaign went negative first, he said. "That's the pot calling the kettle black," Martin said Thursday.

Martin's attack ad takes color photographs of Walters, changes them to black and white images, and superimposes pictures of various props -- sunglasses, a pirate hat and a Soviet-era hammer and sickle.

In the part about Walters' allegedly shifting his position on gay rights, Walters appears with his shirt off, pointing at another man's tattooed back. Walters said the photo was taken on the beach when he was 19 years old. The other man in the photo was a college fraternity brother, who had gotten a tattoo of their fraternity's insignia.

Martin's campaign also has set up a website -- www.chriswaffles.com -- that includes the new commercial and most of the original photos taken from Walters' MySpace page.

Martin's ad accuses Walters of flip-flopping on gun control, gay rights, tort reform and his support for the tea party.

"He's changed his position dramatically on so many issues," Martin said. "He will say anything to get elected."

Walters said he has changed some positions -- many of which initially were published online after he responded to various interest-group surveys while he was a West Virginia University student and House of Delegates candidate several years ago.

Walters said his viewpoints haven't wavered during his run for the 8th Senate District seat, which covers parts of Putnam and Kanawha counties.

"Everything I've done in this election, I've been straightforward," said Walters, who ran unsuccessfully for a House seat in the Morgantown area two years ago.

Martin said his political ad about Walters wasn't intended to be "mean and nasty.

"It was meant to be humorous, not mean-spirited," Martin said. "I wanted to prove a point."

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


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