The Wyoming Republican Party will know by Thursday who plans to vie for the U.S. Senate seat opened by the death of Craig Thomas, and has scheduled a public meeting June 19 to select the party's three nominees.

Fred Parady, the state party chairman, said Monday the party would take applications until 5p.m. Thursday, and would announce each morning who has applied.

"Our goal is simple — to put forward the three very best possible candidates for the office of senator," Parady said.

Thomas, R-Wyo., died June 4 while undergoing treatment for leukemia. He was 74. Funeral services were held Saturday in Casper, and Thomas was buried Sunday in Cody.

State law gives the party's 71-member central committee until June 20 to submit the names of three nominees to Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who will then have five days to choose Thomas' successor.

The agenda for the June 19 party central committee meeting will be announced Friday, and the party is working to set up a televised candidates' forum on Sunday, according to Parady.

The new senator will be appointed to serve until early 2009. A special election in November 2008 will determine who completes Thomas's term, which runs through 2012.

The party's application form asks candidates whether they would run for re-election in 2008, but Parady said it would be up to individual members of the central committee to decide whether that influences the selection of nominees.

"I'm not sure you can have an enforceable or binding commitment as to someone's intention to run in 2008, so we'll just let that run its course," Parady said.

On June 19, the central committee will hear brief presentations from each candidate; if there are more than eight candidates, the first vote will cull the list to eight, followed by another round of speeches.

Parady said the meeting would be open, and vote totals would be announced after each round of voting; once the list of candidates is pared to three, those names will be submitted to the governor.

Inside the Washington beltway, some have suggested that Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, could be a possible GOP choice. A spokeswoman for Lynne Cheney would not deny the speculation, avoiding multiple calls and e-mails from The Associated Press in the last week.

Matt Mead, who resigned as U.S. Attorney for Wyoming on Thursday, also has been mentioned as a possible successor. Mead did not offer an explanation for his resignation, but the federal Hatch Act restricts Department of Justice employees' participation in partisan political activity.

Thomas nominated Mead to be U.S. attorney in 2001. Attempts to reach Mead for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.

Randall Luthi, the former Wyoming House speaker, last week openly expressed interest in succeeding Thomas. Luthi is now deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It would be an honor, an absolute honor, to try to replace him," Luthi said of Thomas last week.

Another possible contender is state Rep. Colin Simpson, R-Cody, son of former Sen. Alan Simpson. Simpson has declined to say whether he was interested in the job.

Colin Simpson was not available for comment Monday at his law office in Cody, a receptionist said.

Secretary of State Max Maxfield, who was elected last fall after two terms as state auditor, also has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Thomas. But Maxfield said Monday that he wasn't seeking the job.

"I am honored by the phone calls I have received from supporters who encouraged me to place my name in consideration by the Republican Party. I will not seek that position, however, because I recently made a commitment to serve as Wyoming's secretary of state," he said in a release.