In a development rivaling the recent birth of a two-faced kitten in Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, the Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat, has ruled that there will be two elections to fill the seat of the late U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd. Both will be in November 2012, as the deadline for filing for a special election in 2010 has passed.
West Virginia Republicans might sue to have Tennant’s ruling overturned. However, state Democrats insist that the precedent set by a 1994 decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals backs up Tennant.
West Virgnia Governor Joe Manchin, a Democrat, is expected to appoint a fellow Democrat as interim Senator to serve the 15 months remaining until November 6, 2012, when the dual election will be held: A special election to fill the remaining eight weeks of Byrd’s term, and a new six-year term for Byrd’s seat.
Byrd, who served in the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate longer than any individual in history (he served six years in the House before being elected to the Senate for the first of nine consecutive terms in 1958), was a Class I Senator, whose term was up in 2012.
He was re-elected for his record ninth term in 2006.
Governor Manchin is known to have designs on the full Senate term up for grabs in 2012. His term as governor expires that year. He is expected to appoint a caretaker to serve out the next 15 months of Byrd’s term, an interim Senator who will not run for a full term. According to the Washington Post, the most likely choice is former West VIrginia state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey. Casey is a consensus builder, according to Newsweek, who is not a politician and has no desire to be an elected official.
The other choices for interim Senator are 70-year-old College Board President Gaston Caperton, who served as governor of West Virginia from 1989 to 1997, and Manchin’s predecessor as governor, 62-year-old Bob Wise, who served one term from 2001 to 2005. Wise, who served as President of the Alliance for Excellent Education, did not run for re-election in 2004 due to publicity over an extra-marital affair. Manchin was elected to the first of his two terms that year.
Robert Byrd, who was too poor to go to college despite being his high school valedictorian but went to night school to get a law degree and finished his bachelor’s degree when he was in 60s, always put a high priority on education as a mean of eradicating poverty. That the two previous governors are involved in education is a testament to him. He was the colossus of West Virginia politics.
The 53-year-old Manchin clams that his main priority to pick a replacement is a person who will continue Byrd’s legacy of service to the Mountain State.
First appointed to the Senate Appropriations Committee by Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson in 1960, Byrd chaired the committee after stepping down as Majority Leader in 1989. Using his clout, he channeled billions of pork barrel projects to West Virginia, earning him the sobriquet “King of Pork.”
At the 2012 general election scheduled for November 6th, the same seat in the U.S. Senate will be up for grabs twice: Voters will fill the seat for the remaining eight weeks of Robert Byrd’s term and then vote for a full six year term commencing January 3, 2013. One or two Senators might be elected on that day, as a candidate could win the special election and lose the general election, theoretically.
Apart from Governor Machin, the leading candidate for Byrd’s seat is U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican representing West Virginia’s Second Congressional district . First elected to Congress in 2000, Capito had considered running against Byrd in 2006 but ran for reelection instead.
Capito is the daughter of former Republican Congressman & Governor Arch Moore, Byrd’s political nemesis. Moore declined to run against Byrd when the wily Democrat was up for reelection in 1976 and instead ran against U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph in 1978. Randolph’s campaign was financed by then-Governor Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat, who had designs on the seat. In 1984, Randolph was bound to retire at the same time that the term-limited governor’s second term would expire.
Outspent by a margin of 5-1, Moore lost, then ran against Rockefeller for the governorship in 1980 and was outspent by 20-1. He lost another close one, and Rocky managed fulfill his long-term plan, winning Randolph’s vacant seat in ’84. Jay Rockefeller is now the senior senator from West Virginia, upon Robert Byrd’s death.
Perhaps Shelley Moore Capito has learned from her father’s example. Governor Machin is extremely popular and is a conservative with strong across-the-board appeal. West Virginia has powerful unions since the days of John L. Lewis’s United Mineworkers, who would go all out to get him elected.
The 56-year-old Capito might decide instead to run for governor in 2012, leaving Machin the prohibitive favorite to take Byrd’s seat on a permanent basis.