- Associated Press - Friday, July 16, 2010

CHARLESTON, W. Va. (AP) — Gov. Joe Manchin tapped former chief counsel Carte Goodwin, a member of a prominent West Virginia family, to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

Mr. Manchin presented his appointee at a Friday afternoon press conference at the Capitol.

The 36-year-old Mr. Goodwin, a Charleston lawyer, will hold the seat until November. That’s when the governor wants general election voters to decide who will serve the final two years of Byrd’s term. The Legislature has begun a special session to consider a proposal from Mr. Manchin to allow for a fall vote.

Byrd was the longest-serving senator in history when he died last month at 92. Mr. Goodwin, the youngest among those considered potential choices, worked on Mr. Manchin’s 2004 campaign for governor before becoming his chief lawyer. He served in that post until shortly after Mr. Manchin began his second term in 2009, leaving for his family’s law firm.

Last year, Mr. Manchin tapped Mr. Goodwin to lead an extensive review of the state’s judiciary amid complaints from business groups and conflict-of-interest scandals involving state Supreme Court justices. Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor served as the study commission’s nonvoting honorary chair.

While Mr. Manchin’s general counsel, Mr. Goodwin was considered key in drafting mine rescue and safety measures passed after fatal accidents at West Virginia’s Sago and Aracoma coal mines in early 2006.

Like Byrd, the Goodwins have played a major role in West Virginia public service. Mr. Goodwin’s father, who died in April, was chairman of West Virginia University’s Board of Governors. An uncle is a federal judge, while a cousin is the U.S. Attorney for the state’s southern federal court district.

Mr. Goodwin already has ties to West Virginia’s Senate delegation: His wife, Rochelle, is state director for Byrd’s Democratic colleague, Sen. Jay Rockefeller. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, declined comment until there was an official announcement. Mr. Reid was slated to be in West Virginia for a Friday campaign fundraiser.

Mr. Rockefeller did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. The state Chamber of Commerce, which had urged Mr. Manchin to fill in for Byrd, welcomed the choice.

“Anybody who knows Carte likes Carte, enjoys working with him and finds him extremely competent,” Chamber President Steve Roberts said. “He is somebody who will represent West Virginia well in Washington and make us proud.”

The state’s Republican Party chairman, Doug McKinney, said the GOP was interested in Mr. Manchin’s choice only as long as he was “intelligent and someone from West Virginia to represent us until” the special election.

Mr. Manchin has said it’s highly likely he will run for Byrd’s seat, but has yet to announce his plan. The GOP’s top choice is Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, though she is already seeking a sixth House term.

The likely special election will put another Democratic Senate seat in play this year as the party struggles to retain its majority. Democrats have a 58-41 edge, with Byrd’s seat vacant, but are expected to lose seats in November, typical for the president’s party in his first midterm elections.

Associated Press Staff Writer John Raby in Charleston contributed to this report.