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.