CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Gov. Joe Manchin III, a centrist and popular Democrat known for his handling of a coal mine disaster that killed 29 in April, declared Tuesday that he will run for the Senate seat vacated by the death of long-serving Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
The bid marks the latest rise in profile for the 62-year-old Mr. Manchin since the former state lawmaker captured the governor's office in 2004 after a term as secretary of state. He became chairman of the influential National Governors Association earlier this month, enjoys high approval ratings in his state and was seen as a comforter-in-chief to victims' families following April's Upper Big Branch mine explosion and the 2006 Sago mine disaster.
Byrd was 92 when he died June 28 as history's longest-serving member of Congress. He was renowned for his mastery of the Constitution and complex Senate procedures and his ability to secure funds for his home state. Mr. Manchin said no one could truly replace him.
"If I am so fortunate and honored to have the support of the people of West Virginia, I can't fill his shoes," Mr. Manchin said. "I can only hope to follow in his footsteps and serve the people of West Virginia as best I can."
Mr. Manchin's decision came after he and legislative leaders resolved their differences over the succession process. The legislation calls for an Aug. 28 primary and Nov. 2 general election to fill the roughly two years left in Byrd's term. It also sets a four-day candidate filing period, which started Tuesday.
The Nov. 2 winner would take over that month from Carte Goodwin, Mr. Manchin's temporary appointee. Mr. Goodwin, Mr. Manchin's 36-year-old former chief counsel, takes his oath of office Tuesday and has said he will not run for the seat.
Republicans view their top prospect as Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who serves the state's 2nd Congressional District. State GOP lawmakers won an amendment in the legislation that would allow her to seek Byrd's seat without abandoning her ongoing bid for a sixth U.S. House term.
The November election will be key for Democrats trying to hold onto a slim majority in Congress. Were Mr. Manchin to lose, he would remain governor.
National Republican groups cast Mr. Manchin as a would-be rubber stamp for President Obama. Mr. Obama lost West Virginia handily to Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential candidate, in 2008 and is considered unpopular here.
But Mr. Manchin carried all 55 counties in 2008 to land his second term as governor, winning nearly 70 percent of the vote. Registered Democrats have a nearly 2-to-1 edge over Republicans in West Virginia.
As governor, Mr. Manchin has had mixed views on both the 2009 federal stimulus program and the sweeping health care overhaul passed earlier this year. He repeatedly has sparred with Democrats in the White House and Congress over efforts to cap greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning coal.
Mr. Manchin has urged a more gradual approach that provides time and funding to develop cleaner methods for using coal and, eventually, alternative fuels. He frequently has criticized Obama administration regulators as well over their handling of mining permits.
The governor pushed for stronger mine safety and rescue measures after the Sago disaster. But in that tragedy, he also relayed a rumor to relatives that the miners had survived. That proved false, leaving him to tell the devastated families later that all but one of the dozen trapped miners had died.
Mr. Manchin's conservative fiscal approach to state finances recently won the state an improved bond credit ratings from Moody's Investors Service. Such groups as the Cato Institute have applauded Mr. Manchin's push for gradual tax cuts benefiting both businesses and consumers. During his tenure, West Virginia has avoided the recession-induced tax increases, public worker layoffs and reduced government services suffered in many other states.
Mr. Manchin said he would pursue such policies while championing the state's role in the nation's energy needs with coal.
"Now I get to tell the whole world, maybe, how good you are," Mr. Manchin said.