- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Three Democratic candidates for West Virginia governor have agreed to participate in an April 16 forum, the first that is slated to feature the open race’s full Democratic field.

The West Virginia Democratic Party says candidates Jim Justice, Booth Goodwin and Jeff Kessler will take part in the forum about a month before the May 10 primary.

More details about the format, time and place will be released at a later date, according to party spokeswoman Brittni McGuire.

Justice is a billionaire coal and agriculture businessman and the owner of The Greenbrier resort. Goodwin resigned as U.S. attorney in Charleston in December to run for governor. Kessler is the state Senate minority leader.

Kessler has called on Justice to debate for months, and Goodwin recently echoed the call.

In a statement Monday, Justice said he hopes Goodwin and Kessler “are ready to talk turkey at this debate about who can truly create jobs and bring companies to invest in West Virginia.”

Goodwin said he’s looking forward to “standing alongside the other candidates to talk about solutions for moving West Virginia forward.”

Kessler said he is interested in which format the party picks.

“I’ve agreed to participate on the condition that it is a real debate, that we’re not force-fed questions in advance and we just give speeches on couches sitting across from one another,” Kessler said.

State Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, is unopposed in the Republican primary for governor.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is reaching his two-consecutive term limit.

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