Byrd Replacement Could Come Soon

For the first time in 26 years, the voters of West Virginia may soon have the opportunity to fill an open seat for U.S. senator, one created by the death of Robert C. Byrd, D-WV, who served the state more than half a century.

State attorney general Darrell McGraw, at the request of Gov. Joe Manchin, D-WV, looked at the state's succession law and found that a special election can be held before 2012, clearing the way for the governor, himself, to run, a prospect Manchin told Fox he would "highly consider."

But in a statement released by the governor Friday, it is clear the issue is not yet put to rest as legal disagreements still exist. The governor makes clear he will put the question to the state legislature which he will call into special session, where, to hold the election in November, the election law would likely have to be changed.

“It is especially clear to me, now that the Attorney General has officially said that he disagrees with the Secretary of State, that the only way to finally put this issue to rest is for the Governor to call a special session," Manchin said in a statement released to reporters, adding, "If the Legislature does not clarify its intent, the State risks a legal challenge that would undermine or delay the ability of the people to vote in an election."

The secretary of state, Natalie Tennant, the state's top election official, along with the governor's own legal counsel, interpreted the law to mean that an appointee would serve the remainder of Byrd's term which ends in January 2013.

Manchin's office told Fox's Molly Henneberg that a decision on the governor's future could come as early as Friday, but in a press conference on Thursday, Manchin could hardly disguise his desire to fill the seat. His staff is expected to inform the public via e-mail.

The popular governor's expected run would mean an uphill climb for Republicans who had thought the vacancy might offer a chance in this increasingly red state. Numerous Republican strategists have told Fox that the best chance to take the seat might be with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who has not ruled out a run.

"The power of our vote should never be limited or delayed in selecting our elected officials, and 28 months is too long for any person to serve in an elective office through appointment," Capito said in a statement earlier this week, adding, "I encourage the West Virginia Legislature to amend our state's election code and allow for a Special Election during the current election cycle on November 2, 2010."

While Republicans may have an uphill climb, it is clear they will not back down.

“Any Democrat running in West Virginia where President Obama only has a 35 percent approval rating, and 67 percent of voters oppose the Democrats’ health care spending bill, should expect a very competitive race. Whether it’s Governor Manchin or another candidate on the ballot, we will make clear that a vote for the Democrat is a vote for President Obama’s big spending agenda in Washington,” Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Fox.