As Hotsheet, there has been some ambiguity about whether there will be a special election this year to replace West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd - giving the GOP a chance to pick up the seat this year - or whether the special election would wait until 2012.
Now West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant has weighed in to say that her office interprets the law to mean that the special election will be held in November 2012 - the same day as the general election contest coming at what would have been the end of Byrd's term.
Tennant cites state code mandating that because the filing period for the 2010 election has passed the election will have to wait, adding there is precedent for such an interpretation. That creates a unique situation in which the special election and the regular election for the following term will be held at the same time, with the winner of the special election merely serving the short period between the election and the new term.
"Section 3-10-3 states that for terms with more than two years and six months remaining, such as this one with Senator Byrd, the Governor will appoint a replacement who serves the unexpired term until a successor has been elected," Tennant said in a statement.
She continued: "But that election will not be the 2010 General election. Part of this same section of code, requires the candidate to have filed during the filing period. That filing period has already passed. There was a legal case in 1994 decided by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals that up held that position of requiring candidates to file during the filing period."
"That means the election for the unexpired term would be the next election cycle which would take place in 2012," added the secretary of state.
West Virginia's Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin will soon appoint someone to fill out Byrd's term. CBS News chief political consultant Marc Ambinder, citing Democratic sources, reports that Manchin will likely tap Nick Casey, the state Democratic party chair.
Manchin is believed to be 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, as Ambinder notes. The governor told the Associated Press he will not appoint himself to fill Byrd's vacancy.