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Special election set for Byrd's Senate seat

July 19, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia's Legislature passed a last-minute compromise Monday setting a November election to fill the seat of the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

The measure, which sets an Aug. 28 primary and Nov. 2 general election, was passed 83-7 by the House of Delegates and unanimously by the state Senate five days into their special session.

The compromise allows Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito to run both for Byrd's seat and a sixth U.S. House term. She's considered the GOP's top prospect for winning the seat.

But Gov. Joe Manchin has said it's highly likely he'll also run and said he expects to announce his plans Tuesday. He appointed Carte Goodwin to succeed Byrd temporarily on Friday. The 36-year-old former chief counsel to the governor takes his oath of office Tuesday. He would serve until the November election results are certified.

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The measure envisions a four-day candidate filing period that would begin Tuesday.

"This is something the people of West Virginia can be proud of," Manchin said before signing the bill, flanked by Tennant and lawmakers from both parties.

The bill had to pass during Monday's special session to apply this fall. It also limits the discretion allowed Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, whose office oversees the special election.

Both that and the amendment allowing a dual Capito candidacy are considered victories for the Legislature's GOP minority. While Senate Republicans voted for various versions of the bill throughout the session, GOP delegates helped defeat one version. When it was later revived, House Republicans helped block that measure from becoming effective in time for the fall election process.

Those GOP lawmakers argued the measure aimed to aid a Manchin candidacy and deter serious challengers. But they were also aided by some House Democrats opposed to the special election's $5.9 million cost estimate and the tight timetable.

The special election puts another Democratic Senate seat in play this fall as that party struggles to retain its majority. Byrd was a Democrat, as are Manchin, Goodwin and Tennant.

The legislation would only apply to this election; Manchin had initially proposed the measure to revise the state's process for handling all future U.S. Senate vacancies. State law on the topic had produced conflicting legal conclusions from Tennant and state Attorney General Darrell McGraw, also a Democrat.

Besides House-Senate negotiators, Manchin credited county clerks with working through the weekend to help reach the compromise. The state will cover counties' costs for the special election under the measure that passed.

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