Joe Manchin Expects to Fill Robert Byrd Seat by Sunday

Associated Press + More

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin on Monday said he hopes to appoint someone temporarily to the late Robert C. Byrd's Senate seat by Sunday, with plans to announce afterward whether he'll run for it in November.

Manchin said he could name his pick as early as Friday, if the state Legislature by then completes a special session meant to clarify the state's succession process. The session starts at noon Thursday.

"In a perfect world, Friday night I make an appointment," Manchin told The Associated Press. "In a perfect world, by Monday I make my announcement of what my intentions are."

Manchin wants the seat on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, with party primaries in September. The 62-year-old Democrat has said it's highly likely he'll run for the 26 or so months that would then remain in Byrd's term.

Byrd, 92, died June 28 after more than a half-century in the Senate. His death has left fellow Democrats struggling to advance their proposals with a diminished 58-41 majority. Measures awaiting votes including one to extend jobless benefits, and the sweeping financial overhaul sought by the Obama administration.

"I know the importance, and West Virginia needs that additional voice" in the Senate, Manchin said. "But we also need to do it right, and we have to do it right in Sen. Byrd's honor."

For the session, the governor plans to ask the House and Senate to adopt the recent legal opinion from state Attorney General Darrell McGraw. McGraw concluded that the governor could declare a special vote for the seat before 2012, when Byrd would have faced re-election.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, West Virginia's chief elections officer, had earlier ruled that Manchin's appointee would not have to go before voters until 2012. Manchin said he wants lawmakers to resolve the resulting conflict and help the state avoid a court challenge to the succession process.

Manchin said he expects to unveil the session's measure Tuesday. He said quick legislative action would allow Tennant's office to launch a calendar for the primary and general elections. Concerns include an adequate absentee balloting period, particularly for those serving in the military overseas.

"Every minute and every day counts, because it really helps the secretary of state. The time is so limited," the governor said. "This is the most pressing issue for West Virginia right now, because Natalie needs to get going."

Eight states, two territories and Washington, D.C., already have primaries slated for September. Manchin said the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have been understanding when he's explained his planned timetable to them.

"They'd love to have it done. They've been very up front," he said. "I'm trying to get this done as quickly as we can in the most respectful way."

Manchin also said Monday that he was down to around three choices to occupy the seat until the election. He declined to offer specifics, but has said his names appeared in media reports on the topic.

Those earning press mentions include former state Democratic Party chair Nick Casey; his successor, Larry Puccio; former Democratic governors Gaston Caperton and Bob Wise; Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan; and longtime Byrd aide Anne Barth.

Potential Republican special election candidates include Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. She has not ruled out abandoning her bid for a sixth U.S. House term if there's a special election for Byrd's seat. [See where Capito's campaign cash comes from.]

Manchin said he still plans to call a separate special session next week focused on West Virginia's public schools. a House-Senate working group met Monday to complete its review of recommended proposals for that session. They range from pay raises for teachers and school workers to moving the state closer to independent charter schools.