Manchin in search of seat warmer


West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin will play an outsize role in determining a successor to the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), selecting the appointee who will hold the seat until a 2012 special election and then likely running for the seat himself.

In picking a temporary senator whom he might succeed one day, Manchin will have to tread carefully. Governors and other key Democratic leaders have stumbled repeatedly in picking their Senate appointments in the 2010 cycle, and in some cases, the fallout has been damaging to the party’s chances of maintaining control of the seat.

While Manchin has never publicly stated his intention to run for the seat, he has long been viewed by party activists as the favorite to succeed Byrd. He boasts high approval ratings and has made recent moves to increase his national profile, including service as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association in the 2008 cycle and the creation of a federal political action committee earlier this month.

The timing of Byrd’s death, however, has complicated the delicate preparations for the post-Byrd era. In a Monday afternoon news conference, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant announced that, because the filing deadline for the 2010 election had passed, the special election for Byrd’s seat would not take place until November 2012. Also citing state law, Tennant said the governor “will appoint a replacement who serves the unexpired term until a successor has been elected.”

The regularly scheduled 2012 general election will take place on the same day as the special election to fill the remaining weeks of Byrd’s term.

Manchin, whose spokeswoman did not return a request for comment, told reporters Monday that he would not appoint himself to the seat.

But that still leaves him the task of selecting a temporary senator who is not interested in running for a full term in 2012 — an appointee of stature who will keep the seat warm until the popular governor runs.

“I think the governor will want obviously to appoint someone who will be a good representative for West Virginia and will reflect well on the governor,” said former state Democratic Party Chairman Lloyd Jackson. “In addition, I think the governor has an interest in that seat in 2012, as any governor would. I assume he would appoint someone who isn’t interested in 2012.”

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