Late yesterday, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin released a draft proposal for the November 2010 special election to replace Robert Byrd. I find it interesting because you essentially have the candidate writing the terms of their own election. The draft bill really just clarifies the confusing language in West Virginia state law around when a special election must be held for a vacancy of a federal office (Here’s a bill summary). But if Manchin weren’t running for the seat, and that’s highly likely, I don’t think you’d see him rush to shoehorn in this election.
Consider that the Governor wants to move to declare a special election for November, with a primary in August or September. That only leaves a month or so for candidates to run in that race, leaving only those with serious name recognition to have a legitimate shot at victory. On the Democratic side, that basically means Manchin. He’s a popular Governor, and the short time-frames mean that nobody is likely to outraise him or have a bigger profile than him. On the Republican side, that means Shelley Moore Capito, and she won’t do it unless she can run for the House and in the special election for Senate at the same time. She doesn’t want to risk giving up the House seat, and given that even Rasmussen shows Manchin up double digits in a hypothetical matchup, Capito wants to hedge her bets. I can’t imagine that you’d be able to run for two federal offices at once, but expect that to magically appear in the legislation as well.
The point is that Joe Manchin is out for Joe Manchin. I don’t think he’s necessarily dragged his feet with the special election decision or the appointment, expected on Friday – they typically take a few weeks. But this analysis is spot-on:
1. His overall concern — his number one concern — is with West Virginia and its politics. He wants to go by the book in terms of the election to make sure that no flank is exposed and no one can accuse him of rigging the process for his own benefit.
2. That’s because he wants to win the seat, and any taint on the process would hinder his ability to become senator.
3. He is aware that Democratic governors do not have the best of records when it comes to appointing seat-fillers and then figuring out and executing succession elections, so he wants to make sure that the person he picks will serve the state well, be loyal to him, and set him up for a fairly easy election, either in 2010 or 2012.
4. He doesn’t really care for President Obama or the administration that much; I say this based on conversations with people who have spoken with the governor about the subject. So he does not believe that he has an obligation to do anything to further Obama’s agenda if it in any way conflicts with his own.
5. He will cast himself in the mold of a Joe Lieberman, independent-type Democrat regardless of when he manages to reach the Senate (assuming he does).
Well that’s just great. I actually think he doesn’t have to rig the special election because the time frames rig it for him. But it doesn’t hurt to write your own election law.