WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS – U.S. Senate candidate John Raese says he is being shut out of a chance to speak at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting this week at The Greenbrier.
Chamber President Steve Roberts denies the allegation, saying he'll give Raese a microphone is he shows up.
On Tuesday, the day before the Chamber's annual three-day meeting, Raese's campaign issued a press release saying the state Chamber is "denying its members a chance to hear a serious business presentation from a U.S. Senate candidate this week."
"Look, I'm a big boy, and I've got other invitations to tend to this week," Raese said in the release. "But for the Chamber's leadership to deny its membership the chance to hear a meaningful discussion of the federal issues that affect all of us as business people in West Virginia is really revealing."
Roberts countered, saying Raese made his intentions clear earlier this year.
"In April, John announced he would not come and speak to the Chamber of Commerce," Roberts said Tuesday from The Greenbrier as Chamber staff prepare for the meeting. "We took him at his word. The speakers we are having have contacted us and asked for a platform.
"He made this public declaration in April that he would not speak to the Chamber of Commerce. We simply said, 'OK. If he doesn't want to come talk to us, we'll respect his point of view.'"
Raese said Roberts simply is protecting Sen. Joe Manchin.
"I've heard from several members of the Chamber, and they don't like for their organization to become so politicized and one-sided toward the Democrats," Raese said. "And do you really think that they are going to hear the unvarnished truth about Obamacare's effect on their businesses from Joe Manchin? Come on.
"Why does Steve Roberts feel that he has to protect Joe Manchin as if he was a third grader who can't defend himself?"
Roberts called Raese's release and statements "pure and simple political shenanigans."
"Congresswoman (Shelley Moore) Capito doesn't feel that way," Roberts said. "Congressman (David) McKinley doesn't feel that way. And the last time I checked, they both are serving in Washington and are Republicans. They contacted us and asked for the opportunity to speak at the meeting.
"If Mr. Raese had done that, we would have said, 'Sure, absolutely.' If Mr. Raese wanted to speak, all he had to do is ask."
Raese -- whose Greer Industries is a third generation family business employing nearly 1,000 people in limestone, steel, broadcasting, and tourism -- insists his omission is a form of censorship.
"The State Chamber President, Steve Roberts, was rumored to be interested in being Manchin's Chief of Staff in D.C. after the last election," Raese said. "Well, Joe must be thinking about now, 'Why buy the cow when I can get the milk for free?'
"So Steve Robert's is clearly doing Manchin's bidding here, and it's really a shame that Manchin won't have to answer any tough questions, thanks to his old buddy covering for him -- again."
Roberts said he is proud to call Manchin a friend.
"I'm proud of the relationship the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has developed with Joe Manchin both as governor and as a U.S. Senator," Roberts said. "Many people across West Virginia have a close working relationship with Senator Manchin.
"We've been able to work together on projects like lowering taxes and fixing Workers' Comp, just to name a few. I'd work with any politician to get the same things done."
Raese says that he thinks the public can see through such tactics.
"The problem isn't with the Chamber membership at all but with its so-called leadership," Raese said. "What exactly has Steve Roberts done for the West Virginia economy for the past several years? What are his notable contributions to our jobs situation?
"We've got to start including some new voices in this state if we're going to bring the kind of private sector jobs our people deserve. That means new leadership, starting with a new U.S. Senator this November. It's a crucial race for our state's future."
Roberts said Raese is welcome to attend the meeting.
"If he shows up, we'll give him a microphone," he said. "This is a pretty big open meeting. We published our full agenda on Aug. 1. So, to have him today issue this release and make these allegations ... well, they're simply not true."