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W.Va. AG: State can hold Byrd election this fall

West Virginia's attorney general says the state can hold its special election this fall to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D). It had been widely believed, however, based on reading of the state's election law, that the earliest the state would be able to hold that election was in the fall of 2012, when Byrd's term expired.

The state's Secretary of State, Natalie Tennant (D), who is in charge of all things elections, in fact, earlier in the week ruled that the election couldn't be held until 2012 and that whomever Gov. Joe Manchin (D) appointed would have to serve until then. But Tennant also said she personally favored a special election this fall and urged the legislature to change the law to hold the election this fall.

But the state's attorney general, Darrell McGraw, also a Democrat, said the secretary of state's "analysis relied too much on a 1994 state court ruling, and too little on the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which shifted the election of U.S. senators from state legislatures to voters," the AP writes, noting McGraw's opinion, which quotes a U.S. Supreme Court decision: "We begin and end with the fundamental proposition that 'no right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live.'"

It's still unclear, however, despite the attorney general's ruling and the bipartisan statewide chorus calling for an election this year, that state law actually allows that and that the state legislature wouldn't have to change the law.

It's also unclear, though, who would challenge an earlier date, since there isn't much opposition to a special in 2010. The presumed leading contender for the GOP nomination, for example, Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito, also urged an election this fall.

Manchin confirmed at his news conference yesterday -- what political watchers already knew -- that he would be interested in running for the seat if it's held this fall. He has, however, ruled out appointing himself until an election. Manchin is considered the Democrats' best chance at holding the seat in this trending Republican state.