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W. Va. Election Shifts to 2012: Can a Republican Win Byrd's Seat?

4 years ago
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With the passing of West Virginia's iconic Sen. Robert C. Byrd Monday at the age of 92, speculation regarding his likely successor has already begun.
With 2010 looking like a Republican year, it is probably not terribly surprising that on Monday, Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant announced a rather bizarre succession plan: In November of 2012, West Virginia will hold two elections: A special election to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Byrd, as well as a primary and general election for a new six-year Senate term. It is unclear whether Republicans will challenge the ruling.
Whoever wins the special election will serve only two months, from November 2012 until January 2012 -- unless the same person who wins the special election also wins the general election.
One cynical theory to explain the succession plan: Delaying the special election to fill Byrd's seat is mutually beneficial to both Gov. Joe Manchin and Secretary of State Tennant. Had Manchin appointed himself to fill Byrd's seat this year, the state Senate president would have automatically become governor, thereby making it more difficult for Tennant to win that seat herself later.
Out of respect for Sen. Byrd's legacy and his family, Gov. Manchin plans to wait until after a Byrd memorial before appointing someone to fill the majority of Byrd's unexpired term. It's probable that the appointee will be a mere Democratic placeholder (Manchin has said he won't appoint himself, so he is likely to select Nick Casey, Democratic Party and chairman and close ally, or possibly even his wife -- whom he has appointed to state boards -- to keep the seat warm for Manchin until 2012.)
It is then expected that Manchin -- who already has set up a federal PAC in anticipation of the vacant seat -- would, himself, run for U.S. Senate in 2012.

More Robert Byrd Coverage:

- Robert Byrd's Baffling Career: From Segregationist to Senate Sage
- Robert Byrd's Klan History, and the 150 Recruits He Brought With Him
- Sen. Robert Byrd, Longest-Serving Member of Congress, Is Dead at 92
- Sen. Robert Byrd's Seniority Passes Into Legend

Republicans who believe recent GOP presidential success in the Mountain State would automatically translate into GOP electoral success in a 2012 U.S. Senate race are most likely overly optimistic. True, President Obama's approval ratings in West Virginia are abysmal, but that was also the case for the Pennsylvania 12, where Democrat Mark Critz recently won a special election to fill Jack Murtha's congressional seat. The obvious difference of course, is that in 2012, Manchin would be on the same ballot as President Obama.
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. Had the election taken place in 2010, it's even possible that an unknown candidate could surprise everyone.
But as the election will likely now take place in 2012, the smart money would tend to favor popular and socially conservative Gov. 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, with a history in West Virginia, disagrees, telling me that 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."
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. She would be very formidable," says Avella.
Largely viewed as a moderate, Capito represents the 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 benefits from 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 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. The decision to wait until 2012 to hold the election probably increases the likelihood Capito would opt for an open run at governor, as opposed to running against Manchin.
I'm told other potential Republican candidates will wait to see what Capito does. Should she decline to run in 2012, the early list of possible candidates includes Delegate Patrick Lane, Delegate Troy Andes, or former Secretary of State Betty Ireland.

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9 Comments

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kateymac44

As a staunch Republican and conservative I am a bit torn on this matter. Even though Manchin is a Dem, he is fiscally conservative and has worked hard to protect West Virginia miners. I'm sure he is against the Cap and Trade legislation. I pray he does not just appoint a "placeholder" but instead will appoint a person who will vigerously fight for what is best for West Virginia. Unlike a lot of Republicans, I'm not too sure Shelly Moore Capito could beat Manchin for the Senate seat. She is loved in her district, but this is the most Republican district in the state. Her popularity may not translate to the entire state.

June 30 2010 at 6:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ettu

To answer the headliner question: YOU BETCHA!

June 30 2010 at 3:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Jan

What a waste of time and money! I sure hope someone in WVA has the sense o challenge this in court. They ned to jsut appoint a fill in until the next senate election in 2012. The idea of holding 2 eletins in 2012 is absurd!

June 29 2010 at 4:56 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jan's comment
rontrigger

It's happened a number of times over the years. The last time, I believe, was in Georgia in 1972.

June 29 2010 at 8:49 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

"Delaying the special election to fill Byrd's seat is mutually beneficial to both Gov. Joe Manchin and Secretary of State Tennant. Had Manchin appointed himself to fill Byrd's seat this year, the state Senate president would have automatically become governor, thereby making it more difficult for Tennant to win that seat herself later.
........this is why people like this need to be voted out. They think these positions are some kind of gimme's. From now until November 2012 West Virginia will not have a rep in the Senate. Get on them West Virginians tell them you won't go that long without representation.

June 29 2010 at 3:28 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to dc walker's comment
Maggie

I have no idea since I do not live in WVA, but I hope and pray daily that a Republican or Independent will be given, by votes, the seat held entirely too long by Any One. There definitely should be term limits in Congress, that way we could get new blood and new ideas every once in a while. Not necessarily what the president or three of the Congress members want.

June 29 2010 at 12:48 PM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Maggie's comment
dc walker

......there are term limits, two years for the House of Representatives and six years for a Senator-------its up to the voter to vote them out.

June 29 2010 at 3:29 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

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