THE BLOG
07/20/2010 12:12 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

West Virginia Special Election Not a Done Deal

It appears that West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's plans for a special election this fall are not exactly being met with enthusiasm by the WV Legislature.

On Saturday, the WV House of Delegates initially rejected passage of HB 201, which would establish a special election for the seat vacated with the passing of Sen. Robert C. Byrd by a vote of 42-45, but later reconsidered its action and passed the bill 46-37. However, the motion to make the bill effective from passage was rejected, 50-34.

Without a 2/3 vote to make the bill effective earlier, the legislation will not take effect for 90 days making the question of a special election on Nov. 2 moot.

The bill is now in conference committee, so progress is being made, but opponents of the bill can still use the effective date to effectively defeat enactment of the bill.

The roll call on effective date indicates a unique coalition of members who are yet to sign off on the bill. Most votes in opposition come from the entire Republican caucus of the House of Delegates, but there are also some key liberal to progressive Democrats (Dels. Bonnie Brown, Barbara Fleischauer, Clif Moore, and Don Perdue) who voted in opposition to the effective date and have yet to sign off on the bill.

House Republican concerns may have been resolved with the State Senate's adoption of an amendment by Sen. Minority Leader Mike Hall (R) to treat the Special Election as a separate election allowing Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) to run in both her Congressional election and the Special Election at the same time. (Current law would preclude her from being on the Nov. 2 ballot for both U.S. House and Senate.)

Doing so would allow Rep. Capito to seek the Senate office without risking her position in the House. It would also open the flood gates for out-of-state contributions to the State Republican Party in support of her candidacy.

It remains to be seen whether the WV House will concur with Sen. Hall's amendment during the Conference Committee process. Why the Democratic majority would support such a change and allow the state's highest profile Republican to run for the Senate without risk is a mystery.

What is clear, given the initial rejection of the bill, as well as Nay votes from some members of the House Rules Committee, is that House leadership was not in agreement with initial plans for the election. Whether that situation has changed remains to be seen.

It's widely known that House Speaker Rick Thompson (D) would like to run for Governor in 2012. Perhaps, the Speaker and his supporters would rather have Gov. Manchin in the Governor's Mansion for the next two years more than giving Sen. President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) a head start and the ability to run as an incumbent in 2012? (In his capacity as Senate President, Sen. Tomblin would act as Governor in the event Gov. Manchin resigns his office after winning election to the U.S. Senate.)

Current polling indicates that Capito and other Republican candidates trail Manchin significantly heading into the fall election. Perhaps, their calculation is that Manchin would be more vulnerable in 2012 after completing his second term as Governor -- especially with an increasingly uncooperative legislature -- rather than as a sitting U.S. Senator?

Perhaps both situations are true (at least to some degree) which presents a unique coalition at the WV State Capitol. Political factions which are usually opposed to one another (Republicans and progressives), are in the unique situation of sharing mutual interests regarding Manchin's candidacy this fall and the reality that a Manchin victory would result in Sen. Tomblin (a very conservative Democrat) serving as Governor beginning in 2011.

Regardless, what happens in the next few days will likely have an impact on West Virginia politics for years to come.