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W.Va. governor urges fall election to replace Byrd

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) joined a growing chorus that includes Republicans urging that the special election to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd be held this fall -- instead of in 2012, as state law dictates.

At a news conference this morning where he made the announcement, Manchin said he would "highly consider" running for the seat if it is held this fall -- though he has ruled out appointing himself until the election.

"I would highly consider that," Manchin said, referring to a possible run. "I do understand what's at stake here."

The state legislature, which is dominated by Democrats, would likely have to change the existing law to make that happen. Manchin also said he would ask "the state attorney general to weigh in," AP writes.

It has been widely known that Manchin has an interest in the seat. His term is up in 2012, which would set up another replacement domino to fall. (Byrd's term also expires in 2012.)

Manchin is more centrist than either Byrd or sitting Sen. Jay Rockefeller, but he's seen as Democrats' best hope of retaining the seat.

The presumed GOP front-runner would be Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito. Capito, who represents the second congressional district, has also joined the call for moving the election to this fall.

*** UPDATE *** Here's a rough transcript from Manchin's news conference.

Manchin: I think that there's reasonable concern that there should be clarity to this and that is my reasoning for asking the attorney general to render a ruling as quickly as he can. Now, with that being said, I will not move forward on this appointment or the succession process as we've been talking about until the attorney general's opinion is rendered. I believe that is the most prudent thing for us to do right now…

I hope that gives you some explanation. I'm not sure if it gives you clarity, but it gives you an explanation of where I stand as the governor of the great state of West Virginia, the appreciation that Gayle and I have for all the support and how we as a state are still working on moving forward together. And there's nothing that anyone can be more humbled and more honored [with] than I am with that support.

Also, your vote belongs to you and I believe you should have the right to exercise that vote as quickly as possible for this important seat. And with that there are processes that will be unveiled, there's a couple different avenues that might be taken.

But I think until the attorney general renders his opinion, which I'm hopeful will come very quickly, then I'm hopeful we will make a decision on the process. I will speak to the legislative leaders and all the parties involved in policy-making in West Virginia, to move further - to move further as quickly as possible.

Question: Timing?

Manchin: I'm very hopeful it will be as quickly as possible. When I'm saying quickly, [I mean] by no later than the first of next week or sooner.

Question: Change the law?

Manchin: I will talk to the legislators at that time…

I know there's an awful lot of public opinion, public sentiment, that [supports] an election sooner than later - I gave you my personal opinion of the two and a half years - and if there's enough people in the legislative process and the people in West Virginia that believe, they'll be contacting their legislators and the legislative leaders will talk to them… As you know, we have a special session coming up and that's an option that we have, that's one of the options of the process that we could go down.

Question: Pressure from Washington to have the seat filled?

Manchin: Not really. They've been so kind. As you know, I've been talking to the White House. I've been talking to our senators and most importantly [to] our senator Jay Rockefeller. And it's important. These are important times in America. Every decision that's being made is a decision that affects everybody's lives.

So whatever, wherever you may be, it's affecting your lives in these very, very important decisions, so we understand that. But also I think that there's a process that they understand and respect in West Virginia. And to just hastily try to do something because [it’s] time sensitive -- and to try to fill as giant shoes as [those of] Robert C. Byrd, who was a stickler for the Constitution and really demanded things being done and done right, would not be, I think, of good steed for him. I don't think he would look upon that [well].

Question: If the AG comes back and says there should be a special election and if there is a special election, would you then file to run for the seat?

Manchin: I would highly consider that - I truly would. I have always wanted to put myself in a position to help the people of West Virginia. I do understand what's at stake here.

I do understand the urgency of the decisions that are being made that affect our state and I think everyone knows - from the White House on down - how I feel about what we have done and contributed as the state of West Virginia…we are very cognizant of [the energy that we produce], and we believe that we can move this country forward…to dependable, affordable, reliable energy while we transform ourselves.

I believe I can bring a lot of that debate to the forefront and have respectful dialogue. I keep using the word respectful because I see the toxic atmosphere that we're dealing with and I don't like it. I don't like it and I don't think the American people like the toxic atmosphere that's in Washington. I think there has to be civility brought back to it.

Now, with that being said, I would watch very carefully and I would be very interested in seeing if that opportunity would arise.

Question: if the AG responds and says you must make an appointment in the interim, do you have someone in mind?

Manchin: I absolutely do. I've had quite a few.

Question: Are you saying appointing yourself is not an option?

Manchin: That is not an option for me.

I have several people of just high caliber. There've been a lot of names mentioned and these are all just high quality individuals with tremendous ability…

I can assure you [that] the person I appoint…understands the needs of working people, the needs of businesses to be able to survive and compete in a very competitive atmosphere. I need to make sure and I will make very much sure that that person will be able to fulfill the needs of West Virginians, I can assure you of that.

Question: What are you looking for?

Manchin: I think once we see the opinion of the Attorney General, it’ll tell us maybe the time frame that we might be looking at. And that will make a determination on how I go.

Question: Would you appoint someone who supports Sen. Kerry’s cap and trade bill?

Manchin: No. (laughter and applause)

Now I do support someone who will respectfully sit down and work what I believe is a much better option, [one] that helps this country and helps this state. Absolutely.

You were surprised about such a short answer, weren't you?

Question: Has anything changed since the Secretary of State’s press conference?

Manchin: Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed… my attorneys, the people who advise me, are working with and understanding what the Secretary of State has interpreted…I've always supported the chief election officer.

With that being said, I think even the chief election officer has said that we should have the opinion of the chief legal officer of the state of West Virginia, which I also concur. And out of respect and out of courtesy that needs to be done. I think we all agree. I think we both agree on that. So with that we'll be awaiting anxiously the Attorney General's opinion.

Question: would Gayle [Manchin, his wife] be an option [for the seat]?

Manchin: She'd be a wonderful option, wouldn't she?

We both - we've worked very well as a team and I think we'll remain as a team. We've worked very well as a team.

[to his wife] Let me just say - and I mean this - thank you. Thank you for the support... I think us staying together as long and as strong as we have has fared well for our state.

Whatever the future brings, I think there are a lot of capable people, a lot of people with tremendous passion and love of our state that will be able to continue all of us working together to move us forward...

I want to say this. When people ask me, you know, about different processes and where you stand and -- I often think of this: I'm an American first. I'm a West Virginian second. I'm a Democrat third.

You may be a Republican - but I'd hope you'd be American first, a West Virginian second and a Republican. We've got to put everything in proper perspective and sometime we've lost sight of that, we really have, and we get so embattled and we get so competitive that we lose sight of the objective of changing and transforming and creating a better country and a better union if you will and a better state for our children and generations to come.