West Virginia Will Hold A Special Election for U.S. Senate: Return of the LBJ Law by Gregory Hilton

The West Virginia legislature voted last night to approve a special election this November to fill the vacancy caused by the death of the late U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D). A compromise was reached at 5 pm and the legislation was then approved with large majorities in both chambers.
Filing for the Senate vacancy will take place over the next four days. A primary will be held on August 28th and a special election will occur on November 2 for the final two years in Byrd’s term.
Carte Goodwin, 36, the former chief counsel to Gov. Joe Manchin, will be sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden at 2:15 pm today as Byrd’s temporary successor. Goodwin will have to vacate his office after the special election. If the law had not been changed, an appointed Senator could have served the remainder of Byrd’s term until 2012.
A two-thirds majority was necessary to change the state law. Republicans ended negotiations on Sunday, but their hard bargaining paid off yesterday afternoon. State Senate Republican Leader Mike Hall insisted on inclusion of an “LBJ Law.”
This will allow the most prominent GOP candidate, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, to seek re-election to the House this November, and at the same time to run for the U.S. Senate. The GOP’s legislative victory was surprising because Republicans occupy only 29 of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates. The last time the GOP had control of the state legislature was in 1931.
The Congresswoman’s best advantage in the special election is the unpopularity of the Obama administration. West Virginia is a Democratic state, but according to the Gallup Poll, Obama has a dismal 34% approval rating.
The Democrats cap and trade proposal is radioactive in this coal producing state. Rep. Moore Capito will say the Massachusetts special election ended the health care public option, and her victory would end the debate on cap and trade.
Governor Joe Manchin III, the Front Runner
The four day filing period opens at 8:30 am today, and Gov. Manchin will formally declare his candidacy at 10 am. He enters the race as the clear front runner. Manchin, 62, was re-elected to a second term in 2008 with 70% of the vote, and the Governor has emphasized his differences with the President. The Governor also says Republicans and Democrats are able to work together in West Virginia, and he wants to bring that same spirit to Capitol Hill.
Manchin is a vigorous opponent of cap and trade, and he will say the best way to kill it is by electing a Senator who can work within the Democratic caucus. The Governor is a pro-life and pro-gun social conservative, while the GOP’s Capito is pro-choice.
The Governor’s clear differences with the national Democratic Party were reflected in his 2006 visit to Iraq. He signed a missile with the message: “Sending you to hell, from Almost Heaven, West Virginia.”
Manchin served four years in the House of Delegates, a decade in the State Senate, and four years as Secretary of State, but was defeated for Governor in 1996.
In a Rasmussen survey conducted ten days ago, the Governor had an 80% approval rating and in a head to head match up, he was was leading Congresswoman Moore Capito by 14%. In the same poll, the Congresswoman had a 59% approval rating which would have been excellent if she was running against anyone else but the Governor.
What is an LBJ Law?
This term first came to prominence after Texas election law was revised on April 27, 1959. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) wanted to seek a third term in 1960, but he also did not want to rule himself out of a presidential or vice presidential campaign that year.
The so-called LBJ Law allowed him to run for both offices simultaneously. The same law was used again in 1988 by Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) when he was re-elected that year and was also the Democratic nominee for vice president.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT) was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000, and was allowed to seek re-election to the Senate at the same time. The current Vice President, Joe Biden, was elected in 2008 on the same day he was re-elected to his Senate seat. The legislation passed in Connecticut and Delaware was referred to as “LBJ Laws.”
The Republicans – August 28th Primary
Gov. Manchin is unlikely to encounter serious opposition in the Democratic primary, but Congresswoman Moore Capito, 56, may not have the GOP field to herself. She would enter the campaign with $550,000 in cash on hand, but she would need to raise $5 million for a competitive Senate race.
Potential GOP candidates would have to consider a number of options. A statewide candidate could run in the special Senate election this year, or in the open gubernatorial race in 2012. In addition, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) is expected to retire in 2014 when he will be 77.
The LBJ Law allows the Congresswoman to have a free shot at a statewide campaign, but some of her advisers are still against a Senate race.
Their concern is that Manchin might defeat her by a 2 to 1 margin, and that would damage her prospects for seeking the governorship in 2012. Other potential GOP candidates are:

  • Former Secretary of State Betty Ireland, 64, who was prominently mentioned as a candidate prior to enactment of the LBJ Law. Ireland succeeded Manchin and served from 2004 to 2008, but did not seek re-election. She would have been viewed as a far stronger candidate if she had been re-elected.
  • John Raese, 60, the former Chairman of the state Republican Party, has already said he is considering another campaign. He owns 15 radio stations in the state.
    In 1984 he lost a U.S. Senate campaign to Jay Rockefeller by a 52% to 48% margin. Raese spent $1.2 million compared to Rockefeller’s $12 million. Raese narrowly lost the 1988 gubernatorial primary to Gov. Arch Moore (53% to 47%). He spent $3 million of his own money in 2006 when he challenged Sen. Byrd’s final re-election, but received only 34% of the vote. Raese supported Rudy Guiliani’s presidential campaign in 2008.

Could West Virginia Be Another Upset Similar to Massachusetts?
It could, but there are major differences. Massachusetts Republicans won a stunning special election victory in January 2010 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy.
When that campaign began, state Attorney General Martha Coakley had a 30% lead over Scott Brown.
Coakley had high name identification, she was admired, but voters knew little about her.
She proved to be an inept campaigner. Coakley was so confident of victory in Democratic Massachusetts that she took a three week vacation after securing the nomination.
Coakley had been able to win the primary based on name ID alone. When she finally had to campaign against the GOP’s Scott Brown, she did a poor job. Manchin is an effective campaigner who is able to connect with his audiences, and it is highly doubtful he take this election for granted.

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