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After 51 Years of Robert Byrd, Who's Next as West Virginia's Senator?

3 years ago
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With the death of West Virginia's iconic Sen. Robert C. Byrd on Monday at the age of 92, speculation regarding his likely successor has already begun.

As of now, it is still unclear whether or not West Virginia's governor, Joe Manchin, a Democrat, will appoint a candidate to fill out the remainder of Byrd's term (which would expire in 2012) -- or if he will instead be required to hold a special election this November. West Virginia's secretary of state plans to conduct a press conference at 4:30 p.m. with details.

It's impossible to know what will be announced, but with 2010 looking like a Republican year, it is clear that Democrats hope to avoid a November special election, and most likely, Manchin will be able to appoint a Democratic placeholder to keep the seat warm for Manchin until 2012. He has said he won't appoint himself, so he will likely select either his wife, Gayle -- whom he has appointed to state boards -- or Nick Casey, the outgoing state Democratic Party chairman and a close ally. Casey resigned due to a pending appointment to be a federal judge.

It is then expected that Manchin -- who reportedly already has set up a federal PAC in anticipation of the vacant seat -- would, himself, run for U.S. Senate.

Republicans who believe GOP presidential success in the Mountain State (John McCain won in 2008 with 56 percent of the vote) will automatically translate into GOP electoral success in the U.S. Senate are most likely overly optimistic. True, President Barack Obama's approval ratings in West Virginia are abysmal, but that was also the case for the PA-12, where Democrat Mark Critz recently won a special election to fill Jack Murtha's congressional seat.

If Scott Brown can win Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, of course, anything is possible, including the notion a Republican could succeed Robert C. Byrd. Even West Virginia is not immune to the zeitgeist. For example, Rep. Alan Mollihan recently lost a bid for his 15th term in a primary. Should the election take place in 2010, it's even possible that an unknown candidate could surprise everyone.

Joe ManchinBut if, as is likely, the election shifts to 2012, the smart money would tend to favor popular and socially conservative Manchin, who gained national exposure during West Virginia's recent coal mining disasters. As Public Policy Polling wrote Monday, "If Manchin runs it's hard to see Democrats losing the seat."

But David Avella, a Republican strategist and executive director of GOPAC, who has a history with West Virginia politics, disagrees, telling me Manchin, "is beatable, particularly if he is going to run in 2012. He will have to defend a set of policies out of the Obama administration that has done more to hurt the energy related industries in West Virginia than to help them." It is here that the PA-12 analogy falls apart. Mark Kritz didn't have to run on the same ticket as Obama. Should he wait until 2012, Manchin would have to do so.

West Virginia is traditionally a parochial state, not prone to electing outsiders. As such, the candidate Republicans are pinning their hopes on is Shelley Moore Capito, the state's only Republican member of Congress. "She just has that star power that few West Virginia politicians have," Avella said. "She would be very formidable."

Largely viewed as a moderate, Capito represents the gerrymandered 2nd District of West Virginia, a gerrymandered district stretching from the Ohio River to the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia (virtually a suburb of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area). Because of the odd lines of her district, Capito is well known statewide, and is benefited by representing a diverse constituency, ranging from Appalachian coal miners to D.C. commuters.

Capito is the daughter of Arch Moore, a scandal-plagued former West Virginia governor who decided against challenging Byrd, himself, in the 1970s.

Sources I spoke to confirmed Capito is weighing her options, but is seriously considering a run for either the U.S. Senate or for governor in 2012.

I'm told other potential Republican candidates will wait to see what Capito does. Should she decline to run, the list of possible candidates includes Delegate Patrick Lane, Delegate Troy Andes or former Secretary of State Betty Ireland.

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5 Comments

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ettu

Seems like WVA has to rethink their voting tendencies. If they have only ONE conservative in their State Legislature, could be one of the reasons they often do not fare well in the growth and prosperity arena. Time to take a second look, WVA.

June 29 2010 at 12:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
georhe6

It is time for a Republican

June 28 2010 at 8:32 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
jysa

As a constituent of the 2nd WV district, I have observed Shelly Capito to be an unusual and outstanding leader. She does an excellent job at keeping our family & community included in the decisions & debates that affect us here at home. During the Obama bail out, she held townhall meetings and heard our concerns and issues. She held representative ground for us--voting against the financial support of fiscally self-serving, morally bereft corporate scoundrels.
The pressure was fierce, but she stood like a true mountineer. Semper Liberi

June 28 2010 at 6:49 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
drb107

I really hope Capito decides to run for this office, West Virginia has been run by one party forever and that needs to change. I read this column with some interest and found it a little misleading, both Senator Byrd, and Senator Rockefeller are not from West Virginia, and why Rockefeller is Senator I am sure we can figure this out easily. But Ms Capito would make a great Senator from West Virginia.

June 28 2010 at 5:00 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Paul

Shelley Capito would be excellent as either a senator or governor. She keeps her focus, makes up her own mind, and is beholding to no one except the voters. She gets the job done.

June 28 2010 at 4:09 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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