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Manchin wants Byrd's seat on Nov. ballot, would consider running

July 07, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin called Wednesday for a special election to fill the late Democrat Robert C. Byrd's Senate seat and said he will consider running for it.

He is awaiting an opinion from Democratic Attorney General Darrell McGraw on whether the election can be held this year instead of 2012, when Byrd would have had to run again.

An election in West Virginia, which overwhelmingly went for Republican John McCain in 2008, would put another Democratic Senate seat in play this year as the party struggles to hold on to its majority. The party currently has a 59-41 edge, but is expected to lose seats in November, typical for the president's party in his first midterm elections.

Manchin, also a Democrat, said he won't arrange to have himself appointed to Byrd's seat. But he had long been expected to run for it in 2012, and asked at a press conference Wednesday if he would be a candidate in a special election, he replied: "I would highly consider that."

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Byrd, 92, was the longest-serving senator in history when he died last week with about 30 months left in his term.

Conflicting state laws and a 1994 state court ruling led Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant to conclude that whomever Manchin appointed would not have to face voters until 2012. She has since joined the growing chorus calling for Manchin and state lawmakers to put the seat on this year's ballot.

It also includes Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the GOP's top prospect for the seat, who said Wednesday she wants voters to decide in November who should fill it. With Capito already seeking a sixth U.S. House term, campaign spokesman Kent Gates said others have asked her about running for the Senate and she "will look at all options as they come."

Manchin said Wednesday he will hold off filling the vacancy until McGraw issues an opinion, but has already compiled a roster of potential choices. He told The Associated Press that it does not include First Lady Gayle Manchin, who was rumored to be on the short list.

Possible picks include former state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey; his successor, longtime Manchin aide Larry Puccio; Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin; and veteran Byrd staffer Anne Barth.

Manchin said he is seeking someone who will carry on Byrd's legacy of devotion to West Virginia while also championing the state's coal industry, a delicate balancing act for Democrats here.

Coal interests have been at odds with the Obama administration over its handling of mining permits and pursuit of legislation meant to curb greenhouse gases released by burning coal. While citing the country's reliance on coal, Byrd had also called on the industry to assist in crafting a climate change measure.

Manchin echoed Byrd's push to find ways to ways to burn coal more cleanly but has become a vocal foe of the bills now before Congress. He invoked the issue Wednesday when he outlined why he may run for the seat.

"Everyone from the White House on down knows how I feel about what we have done here in the state of West Virginia, and about the energy we produce," Manchin said. "I believe I can bring a lot of that debate to the forefront."

Manchin's second term ends in 2012, and he cannot run for a third consecutive one.

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