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Column: Potential Candidates To Replace An Ailing Byrd

This story was written by C.G. Shields, The Daily Athenaeum

It is difficult to take the decision last week of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) to give up his gavel as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee as anything but an omen of things to come.

Byrd just a week away from his 91st birthday has been in and out of the hospital over the past year and more and more frequently absent from his beloved Senate.

By West Virginia law, in the event of a vacancy in a United States Senate seat, the governor is responsible for appointing a substitute.

If Byrd were to resign or pass away right now, the appointment would last until the 2010 midterm elections, when state voters would choose a permanent replacement.

Based on absolutely nothing but aimless speculation, and for entertainment purposes only, I shall handicap some potential suitors.

1:2 Joe Manchin.This is the easy money. The idea that Manchin covets the lifetime career of a seat in the Senate is practically an article of faith from Fairmont, W.Va., to Charleston, W.Va., to Washington, D.C.

But be careful Manchin wants to leave a polished legacy in the state capital and almost certainly would like to finish out more than half of his second term as governor.

The best case scenario for Manchin is that Byrd makes it through his current term until 2012 and then retires, allowing Manchin to seek Byrds seat in an election that would not unfairly be presumed a cakewalk.

A possible snag? Manchin may instead covet a seat in the cabinet if there is a second Barack Obama administration Secretary of Energy, perhaps.

2:1 First lady Gayle ManchinIt may complicate things for Joe that his wife openly spoke of her own qualifications for the position to the State Journal in 2007.

The first lady, it is likely, would be but a placeholder for her husband until he completes his gubernatorial service unless she liked the job so much that she decided to put up a fight for it.

Now that would be a fun primary election.

4:1 Delegate Tim Manchin (D-Marion)Maybe it seems Im unfairly attributing to the governor a desire to appoint someone from his own family, but its a big family.

Tims name has already been floated as a possible state Supreme Court candidate, and the consensus is that he has bigger political plans than remaining in the statehouse.

So how about this: Joe appoints Tim to hold the U.S. Senate seat until 2012, as he slides through token competition in the 2010 midterm John Raese, are you still available?

Then they trade places, with Tim resigning to run for governor and Joe seeking the Senate seat his cousin has kept warm.

25:1 Anne BarthThe odds were better for Byrds longtime chief aide and hand-picked successor until she was waxed by Republican incumbent Shelley Moore Capito in this years Second Congressional District election.

Barth is not out of the picture, but she will have to generate some confidence in her ability to compete in an election before being taken seriously.

100,000:1 Mike GarrisonSure, its a stretch. But maybe, deep in the recesses of his heart, Manchin feels that he owes Garrison some sort of debt. Manchin was an ally in the former state tax commissioners quest to become president of West Virginia University and then abandoned Garrison to his fate in the face of the eMBA debacle.

An appointment to the Senate would give Garrison a chance to rehabilitate his image on a national stage for a few years until Manchin obliterates him in the 2012 Democratic primary and takes his seat, anyway.

$30,000,000:1 Don Blankenship, CEO, Massey EnergyManchin and the billionaire coal baron West Virginias answer to C. Montgomery Burns may both be Friends of Coal, but the common ground ends there.

In the past two election cycles, Blankenship has pumped money into Republican candidates and causes faster than his company has pumped acid mine drainage into West Virginias streams.

(In January of this year, Massey agreed to a $30,000,000 settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency the largest such settlement in U.S. history.)

Blankenships efforts have generally been of the losing variety, with the exception of state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamins victory in 2004, but he is sure to emerge again from whatever dark sarcophagus in which he sleeps in 2012.

∞:1 C.G. Shields, Columnist.Sometimes, in the smallest hours of the morning, when dogs do not bark and birds do not sing and even the stars seem to sleep, I dream that someday I shall be among the leaders who walk the halls of the oversized Greco-Roman architecture of Pierre LEnfants great swamp.

But with the coming of the dawn, I awake and remember that I will have to settle for a lifetime of making fun of those people.

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