Who Will Replace Byrd?

Jillian Bandes
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Posted: Jul 06, 2010 2:10 PM
West Virginia law holds that Governor Joe Manchin (D) is responsible for appointing a successor to fill the seat of deceased Sen. Robert Byrd, but  their Secretary of State, Natalie Tennant (D), wants a special election. Byrd's term lasts until 2012, so West Virginians are going to be stuck with a placeholder representative that Manchin picks for two long years unless the state Legislature or the Supreme Court intervenes. It would require a special session, since neither body is currently convened.

If that doesn't happen, Manchin is likely to appoint someone he can rely on not to run again when the regular election happens in 2012. Why? Manchin wants the Senate seat for himself. He's doing the same thing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist tried to do in Florida, by appointing Sen. George LeMieux (R) to retired Sen. Mel Martinez's seat. LeMieux was a political lightweight who Crist thought he could easily replace in November -- that's until Marco Rubio came around.

The Washington Post calls it "democracy put on hold," which is true -- appointing caretaker Senators is a corrupt process that prioritizes political cronyism instead of the the will of the people. Additionally, the GOP actually stands to gain some ground if the process is thwarted. While West Virginia is solidly Democratic, a strong anti-incumbancy sentiment has leaked through the state, as evidenced by the ousting of 28-year Congressional veteran Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) in his May primary. It'd be a long shot for a GOP-er to take Mollohan or Byrd's place, but anything's possible this crazy election year. And even if a GOP-er didn't win outright, they could still make a strong showing in either contest and boost the Party's national image.