West Virginia pols weigh moving Byrd special election to November
The special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd's (D-W.Va.) seat might not have to wait until 2012 after all.
Just two days after the senator died and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) declared an election for his seat would have to wait two years, an effort to move the special election to 2010 appears to be materializing -- though it remains to be seen whether it will develop into a serious challenge to her ruling.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones (R) said Wednesday morning that he believes the state legislature will take up legislation that would move the special election to this year.
According to local reports, Jones said he has reason to believe Gov. Joe Manchin (D) will add the issue to the slate for a special session next month. (The special session, which is focused on education, is set to start on July 19.)
"Senator Byrd died; that's something we can't change," Jones said, according to West Virginia Metro News. "We need to have a successor."
A spokesman for Manchin didn't immediately offer a comment to The Fix, but state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio, a former Manchin chief of staff, said lawmakers are looking at all their options, including adding the issue to the special session and challenging the law in court.
While state Republicans have vocally come out for an earlier special election, state Democrats have not yet stated an official position on moving the election up. But Puccio said the party would like to send the issue to voters, if possible.
"I have not heard, at this time, that there is one direction that is locked in," Puccio said. "The Democratic Party in the state of West Virginia always believes giving our citizens an opportunity to vote is always the right thing to do."
At least one prominent Democrat -- Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper (D) -- has come out in favor of an earlier special election. And state Attorney General Darrell McGraw has said his office is still reviewing the law, even though Tennant already declared the special election would have to wait until 2012.
Influential talk radio host Hoppy Kercheval -- the best name in broadcasting(?) -- also cast his lot with those calling for a November 2010 special election in a column today. "When the law is ambiguous it is appropriate to default in favor of, or advocate on behalf of, enabling the voters to choose," he wrote.
Republicans said Democrats are catching on to public sentiment about the timing of the special election. "Public reaction to have somebody serve for more than 30 months was overwhelmingly negative, and lawmakers of both parties are responding," said Troy Berman, executive director of the state Republican Party.
Tennant on Monday declared that state law wouldn't provide for a special election until 2012. While Byrd's death occurred early enough for a 2010 special election to be held, Tennant explained that the law stipulates that candidates must have time to file for the regular primary (which has already passed).
The timing of the special election has particular significance for Manchin who is widely considered the heir apparent to the seat. Manchin was just re-elected in 2008 and the current political environment nationally isn't particularly friendly for Democrats.
It's not completely clear that 2012 will be any better though. The presidential election could drag down any Democrats running statewide, given that President Obama got only 43 percent of the vote in the state in 2008. And, Manchin is both well known and extremely popular in the state -- an edge that could be decisive in a shortened election season but would likely be less helpful in a longer race.
On the Republican side, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) is generally seen as the likely GOP candidate for the seat. She already has more than $500,000 in her federal campaign account.
Manchin has put off appointing Byrd's successor for at least a week, which should provide him time to assess his options.
The ball is in his court, though. If the legislature is to consider changing the law, it's up to Manchin to put any debate about election laws (and timing) on the agenda for the special session.
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