West Virginia's Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin will have to appoint a successor to replace Sen. Robert Byrd, who died early this morning at the age of 92 -- and with ambiguous state rules making it unclear exactly what the replacement process will entail, his next step is anyone's guess.
Manchin told the Associated Press there is no timetable for him to consider Byrd's replacement -- but the timing of an announcement could impact for how long the appointee will hold the seat.
West Virginia law says that if there is a Senate vacancy more than two and a half years before the incumbent's term ends, there should be a special election after a candidate "has been nominated at the primary election next following such timely filing and has thereafter been elected," the Washington Post reports. There is some ambiguity as to whether that would mean there would be an election this November or an election in November 2012, when Byrd's term would have ended anyway.
There is also some question as to whether there is an official Senate vacancy currently -- or if that hinges on when the governor officially "declares" a vacancy. The governor could choose to wait until after July 3 to declare the vacancy, which would make it less than two and a half years before Byrd's term was up. That would definitively leave the governor's appointment in place until 2012, giving Democrats the advantage of time.
The state's Secretary of State's office tells CBS News that all the complexities of the special election to fill the seat will be discussed at the 4:30 p.m. Eastern news conference by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
Democratic sources say that Manchin will likely tap Nick Casey, the state Democratic party chair, to fill Byrd's seat, CBS News chief political consultant Marc Ambinder reports.
According to Democratic sources, Manchin is interested in running for the Senate himself and quietly established a federal political action committee in early June to start raising seed money for a Senate bid, Ambinder reports. However, the governor told the AP he will not appoint himself to fill Byrd's vacancy.
Whether there is an election for Byrd's seat this year or in 2012, Republicans are expected to look to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito to run for the seat. Capito has represented central West Virginia since 2000. She was recruited to challenge Byrd in 2006 but decided against it, the Post reports."If there were to be a special election for the seat in November -- and it is not at all clear there will be -- from an electoral standpoint that might set up a very competitive contest, depending on the candidates," said CBS News Election Director Anthony Salvanto. "On one hand, this is a state that re-elected Democratic Senators Byrd and Rockefeller comfortably as well as Democratic Governor Joe Manchin. On the other hand, this is a state that has been very Republican in recent national presidential elections, among others."
Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election won easily over President Obama here, 56 percent to 43 percent, (and Mr. Obama lost the Democratic primary, too) and former President Bush won the state twice.