W.Va. Gov. Joe Manchin set to run for Byrd's seat; GOP seeks direction
By Aaron Blake
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) said Friday that he will almost definitely run for the open Senate seat in West Virginia this year, a move that should provide a measure of relief for Democrats concerned about another battleground this year.
But are Republicans ready to throw in the towel in a race that isn't even official yet?
Manchin said on MSNBC's Daily Rundown Friday morning that it is "highly likely" that he will run for the seat held by the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.). He even broached the process for replacing himself as governor - a sure sign that the deal is as good as sealed.
"I want to serve my state to the highest possible position I can," Manchin said. "(There are) a lot of important things not just for my state, but for this nation. I look forward to having the opportunity to serve."
Manchin also said that he would ask the legislature to review the state's special election process, in order to settle a dispute between the secretary of state's office and the attorney general's office about whether there could be race this year. Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) issued a ruling Thursday that the special election could be held this year, but the law is murky, and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) has said it should force a 2012 race.
"I've talked to all the legal scholars," Manchin said. "We need have the legislature come back in and clarify this as quickly as possible."
By moving to put the issue before the state legislature, Manchin is removing any lingering doubts about whether the special election could be held this year. And with the extremely popular governor throwing his name in the hat, it now puts the onus on the GOP to field a strong challenge.
Many Republicans are skeptical that the GOP's top hope in the race, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), is ready to run against Manchin - especially when she might have a better shot at succeeding him as governor.
But a source close to the Capito campaign said there are too many unknown variables at this point to declare her out of the race. The congresswoman herself is overseas on official congressional business and could not be reached.
The source said the difficulty of the race would play into Capito's decision.
"She hasn't ruled that out," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak more candidly. "One of the things you do when you consider running for a race is look at prospective opponents and how you can beat them. That will go into her decision-making process."
If Capito doesn't run though, the GOP will have to find another standard-bearer - something that will be tough.
Some candidates mentioned include wealthy businessman John Raese, who lost badly to Byrd in 2006; former Secretary of State Betty Ireland; former state Sen. Steve Harrison; state Sen. Mike Hall; and League of American Voters executive director Bob Adams, who ran for state Treasurer in 2004.
But unless a candidate has millions to self-fund, raising money for such a short campaign will be difficult for a little-known candidate, and there aren't any big names outside of Capito.
"Republicans in the state unfortunately haven't done a good job cultivating statewide candidates," said GOP consultant Brian Donahue, who was executive director for the Bush-Cheney campaign in the state in 2004.
Complicating matters for the GOP is the prospect of an open special election, which Manchin's people are reportedly floating. Such an option would put all candidates in one giant special election without any party nominees. It would also appear to favor the governor, by potentially splitting up the GOP vote against him.
Manchin could justify the option by pointing out that it would avoid the cost of a primary election and would take the decision on party nominees out of party leaders' hands.
Republicans insist that might not be ideal for Manchin, especially if a liberal Democrat runs against him. As we saw in the Hawaii special election in May, clearing the field for the frontrunner would be a top priority on both sides.
Republicans say that they can make it a race against Manchin by running the race on federal issues and making it a referendum on that national Democratic leadership. But Manchin has often taken steps to separate himself from the national party, including keeping distance between himself and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) during the 2004 presidential election and restating this week that he would oppose the Democrats' cap and trade energy bill (a no-brainer in coal-reliant West Virginia).
With so many unknowns, it's going to be hard for the GOP to get a sense of direction. Democrats already have that with Manchin, which will give them a leg up in such a short race.
Washington Post Editors
July 9, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
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