Byline: Joseph Weber, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd early Monday set off political scrambling in his home state of West Virginia and in the halls of Congress, where the Democrat served for more than a half-century.
A top state official said Monday that West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, will appoint a replacement rather than call an immediate special election to fill the vacancy for the remaining 2 1/2 years of Mr. Byrd's term.
The decision, at least for now, ends what state Democratic and Republican leaders privately described as a flurry of intense meetings about potential replacements and how to interpret the state's succession law. The hastily called meetings were held discreetly out of respect for Mr. Byrd, the longest serving member of Congress and a towering figure in his state.
In Washington, amid a public outpouring of sympathy, Senate Democratic leaders were privately pondering the new balance of power with a key vote looming over President Obama's financial regulatory package. Mr. Byrd's death means that Democrats are two votes short of a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority.
Republicans had pressed for a special election to replace Mr. Byrd, with rising hopes of capturing a Senate seat from West Virginia for the first time since 1959, but Mr. Manchin will almost certainly appoint a Democrat to serve out the term.
West Virginia law states that the governor can appoint a replacement if the senator has completed 30 months of his term or hold a special election within 30 months of the term. Mr. Byrd, 92, died five days before the 30-month deadline on naming a replacement, but Mr. Manchin is not likely to announce his pick until after the deadline has passed.
We would like a special election, said Troy Berman, executive director of the state Republican Party. Thirty [more] months is an incredibly long time. All West Virginians would like an opportunity to vote for who gets that seat.
Mr. Berman said party leaders are taking a close look at the law to see what their options are.
West Virginia State Secretary Natalie E. Tennant said in a statement that because of the timing, the state will hold two votes for the seat on Election Day 2012 - one to fill the unexpired five weeks of Mr. Byrd's final term and another for the full six-year term that begins in January 2013.
Had Senator Byrd's term not run out in 2012 there would not have been this unique situation. It would have just been for the unexpired term, she said.
Democrats in Washington were …