Manchin open to Nov. 2010 special election to fill Byrd's Senate seat

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) indicated Wednesday that he was open to a November 2010 special election to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s Senate seat and said he would consider running in that election.

In his first public comments on the process to succeed Byrd (D-W.Va.), Manchin said he believes “two and half years for me to appoint someone to replace this giant, Robert C. Byrd, is far too long.”

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But Manchin stopped short of fully endorsing a special election for this fall. He said he had directed the state attorney general’s office to file a formal opinion on the state’s election code in light of the confusion. Manchin said he would not appoint anyone or move forward with the succession process until the AG’s office weighs in.

The governor did not give the AG’s office a deadline to file a written opinion, but he said he hoped it would come by next week. After that, Manchin said he would move forward with naming an appointee.

Manchin said state Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) “should be given an opportunity to provide clarity to this issue.” West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) did not consult the attorney general’s office prior to rendering her opinion on the state’s election code last week — a point of contention for the AG’s office.

Manchin also said that if a special election were to be held this fall, he would “highly consider” running.

However, he ruled out appointing himself to the position. 

“I believe in the power of the vote,” he said. “I believe in the election process.”

Some labor and business groups in the state have been calling for Manchin to appoint himself to the Senate.

Manchin is highly popular in the state and has pledged to serve out his term as governor, which is up in 2012. He is also expected to ascend to the chairmanship of the National Governors Association at the NGA’s annual meeting at the end of this week.

He would have to break his pledge to run in a 2010 special election.

If a change in the state’s election code is required to move up the election process, Manchin would have to direct the state legislature to revisit the issue during its special session, which is scheduled to begin July 19.

Manchin did not say whether he would ask the state legislature to make the change, but he left open the possibility.

Tennant is standing by her interpretation of the state’s election code, but has come out in support of a November 2010 special election. However, she said that remedy does require the legislature to amend state law.

As it stands now, Manchin would appoint someone to fill Byrd’s Senate seat until a special election is held in November 2012. That election would pick a candidate to fill the five weeks remaining in Byrd’s term. On the same ballot, voters would elect a candidate for a full six-year term.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) also weighed in on the process for the first time Wednesday. Capito wants a special election this November. She is widely considered the top Republican contender for Byrd’s seat or for the governor’s office in 2012 should she decide to run for either.

There hasn’t been an open Senate seat in West Virginia for 26 years. Byrd was in his ninth term when he died last Monday. Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has held his seat for five terms.



— This post was updated at 11:51 a.m. and 12:20 p.m.