June 28, 2010


Robert Byrd's health and Joe Manchin's ambition: The governor who would make the appointment wants the seat for himself (Steve Kornacki, 6/27/10, Salon)

The man who will make any appointment wants the seat for himself -- but has also ruled out appointing himself to it. That would be Joe Manchin, a 62-year-old Democrat who has been West Virginia's governor since 2005. Manchin is quite ambitious and has let it be known in West Virginia that he has national aspirations. Earlier this year, he formed his own PAC for national political activity -- Country Roads PAC -- and he's slated to become the chairman of the National Governors Association later this summer. But he's slated to be term-limited out of the governorship in 2012, so maneuvering his way into Byrd's seat is probably Manchin's only way of retaining his political viability and furthering those national aspirations.

The assumption, then, is that Manchin would simply appoint a placeholder to the seat, someone to keep it warm until he can run for it himself. (He has said that he wouldn't appoint himself.) His popularity is high (he was re-elected with nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2008) and he'd be favored against any Republican.

This is where the issue of timing comes in; if Byrd were to die or give up the seat in the next few days, Manchin and his Democratic allies in the state might have some wiggle room in deciding when the seat is officially declared vacant. In other words, Manchin could potentially get to decide whether he wants to run this fall, or if he'd rather wait until 2012.

Even though this fall figures to be rough for Democrats, it's probably a better time for Manchin to run. He's plenty popular now and, thanks to his cultural conservatism and staunch defense of the state's coal industry, he's separated himself enough from Barack Obama and the national Democratic label that he'd probably be fine. And his presence in a special election this fall would probably scare off the strongest potential Republican, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. But if Manchin has to wait two years to run, circumstances could change. (Also, if Manchin for some reason decided not to run in a special election this year, Capito could very conceivably win the race -- and then build up enough strength to fend off Manchin in a '12 race.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 28, 2010 6:17 AM
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