W.Va. gov says he’ll consider run for Byrd’s seat
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said he’d consider running for the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s seat and asked the state’s top lawyer Wednesday whether voters can choose a successor in November.
Manchin requested an opinion from Attorney General Darrell McGraw on whether the governor can declare a special election for what remains of the term, and whether it can be set before 2012 when the Byrd would have had to run again.
Manchin said he favors placing the seat on this fall’s general election ballot.
“I think 2 1/2 years is entirely too long,” Manchin said. “Waiting that long doesn’t make any sense to me.”
McGraw said Wednesday that his office has begun researching the governor’s questions and hoped to respond before Monday.
Byrd was a Democrat, as is Manchin, McGraw and West Virginia’s chief elections officer, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. But the state overwhelmingly went for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential race, and a special election would put another Democratic Senate seat in play this year as the party struggles to retain its majority.
Democrats have a 59-41 edge, but are expected to lose seats in November, typical for the president’s party in his first midterm elections.
Manchin said he won’t arrange to have himself appointed to Byrd’s seat. But he had long been expected to run for it in 2012. Asked at a Wednesday press conference if he would be a candidate in a special election, he replied: “I would highly consider that.”
Byrd, 92, was the longest-serving senator in history when he died last week with slightly more than 30 months left in his term.
Conflicting state laws and a 1994 state court ruling led Tennant to conclude that whomever Manchin appointed would not have to face voters until 2012. She has since joined the growing chorus seeking to put the seat on this year’s ballot.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the GOP’s top prospect for the seat, added her voice to that push Wednesday. With Capito already seeking a sixth U.S. House term, campaign spokesman Kent Gates said others have asked her about running for the Senate and she “will look at all options as they come.”
Manchin said he will hold off on filling the vacancy until McGraw issues an opinion, but has already compiled a roster of potential choices. He told The Associated Press that it does not include first lady Gayle Manchin, who was rumored to be on the short list.
While not offering specifics, Manchin said the names he’s considering have been appeared in media reports. Those earning mentions include former state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey; his successor, longtime Manchin aide Larry Puccio; Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin; and veteran Byrd staffer Anne Barth.
What happens after McGraw responds depends on whether he says state law must be changed to allow a special election. A special legislative session is already scheduled for July 19, and Manchin said he would approach lawmakers about adding the issue to their agenda if necessary.
Manchin also endorsed Tennant’s Wednesday recommendation that he call a special session next week solely to address the election and clarify such other points as a deadline for candidate filings and campaign finance.
Manchin said he would not consider court action to force a special election, but noted that others have suggested it.
As for the eventual appointee, Manchin said he is seeking someone who will carry on Byrd’s legacy of devotion to West Virginia and championing the state’s coal industry.
Coal interests have been at odds with the Obama administration over mining permits and proposals meant to curb greenhouse gases released by burning coal. While citing the country’s reliance on coal, Byrd had also called on the industry to assist in crafting a climate change measure.
Manchin echoed Byrd’s push to find ways to ways to burn coal more cleanly, but has become a vocal foe of the bills now before Congress. He invoked the issue Wednesday when he outlined why he may run for the seat.
“Everyone from the White House on down knows how I feel about what we have done here in the state of West Virginia, and about the energy we produce,” Manchin said. “I believe I can bring a lot of that debate to the forefront.”
Manchin’s second term ends in 2012, and he cannot run for a third consecutive one. He will become chairman of the National Governors Association later this month. But Manchin has already developed a profile beyond the state’s borders after such coal mining disasters as April’s explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine. There, he comforted families of the 29 men killed and provided regular updates to the media.