West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) has a strong chance at being elected to the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) Senate seat, according to a new poll.

If the state decides to hold a special election in November 2010, Manchin would lead two potential Republican candidates by double-digit margins, a Rasmussen survey found.

As it stands now, Manchin will appoint someone to fill Byrd’s Senate seat until a special election is held in November 2012. But the state attorney general’s office said Thursday that a 2010 special election can happen.

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

The Friday Rasmussen Poll found that Manchin comes in with 53 percent when matched up with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who received 39 percent. Capito has not said she would run for the seat, but she is considered one of the strongest GOP candidates for either that position or the governor’s office.

The poll also tested Manchin against former state Secretary of State Betty Ireland (R). Manchin held an even bigger lead there — garnering 65 percent to Ireland’s 26 percent.

The poll was a telephone survey of likely voters conducted Thursday night. It also found Manchin had a 77 percent approval rating, which is consistent with past polls on the popular governor.

Moore Capito is also a popular figure in the state. She is the daughter of a former governor and the first Republican woman West Virginia sent to Congress. She has said she’s in favor of a November 2010 special election but has not said what she would do if that happens. Republicans had urged her to challenge Byrd in 2006 but she ran for reelection to her House seat. 

There is still no final decision on when the special election will be held. After the attorney general’s opinion was released, Manchin issued a statement saying he would consult with the state legislature.

“In light of this opinion, I plan to speak with the state’s legislative leadership immediately to determine how we will further proceed in order to reach a conclusion to this matter,” he said Thursday.

In order to have a special election this fall, the state legislature may have to change the West Virginia election code. If that is required, Manchin would have to direct the legislature to revisit the issue during its special session, which is scheduled to begin July 19.