While Robert Byrd died today, creating a vacancy more than
two years , six months and five days before his term runs out, the Secretary of
State in West Virginia, Natalie Tennant, announced today that his successor
will not face an election until 2012.
Byrd’s death comes just five days before that 2 years and 6
month threshold. The law in West Virginia seems to say that a special election
should occur in November to select a replacement.
But, as Tennant, a Democrat like Byrd, said today, “The
State Code is an interesting document.”
The primary and filing period for the 2010 election has
already passed in West Virginia, so Tennant has ruled that the special election
will not occur until 2012. And this is even more interesting – at that point
West Virginians will hold a special election to fill out the five weeks from
being sworn in after the November election to January. Voters will on the same
ballot vote in the regular general election to see who is elected to the next
six year Senate term.
Democrats nationwide are breathing a sigh of relief. They
already face a tough slate of elections come November. Adding in a special
election in socially conservative West Virginia, even if the Democrats there
were favored, would have drained more resources and attention at the national
Also breathing a sigh of relief is West Virginia Gov Joe
Manchin, a Democrat widely thought to have designs on the seat. But while its Manchin's job to appointment Byrd's successor, he has
said he won’t appoint himself to fill out Byrd’s term. Manchin is term-limited
out of his job as governor after the 2012 election, so Tennant’s decision works
perfectly if Manchin wants to run for senate then.