- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. | The top Republican prospect for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s seat said Wednesday she won’t run, leaving the state’s Democratic governor the clear favorite as his party looks to keep its Senate majority in November.

Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced she would not enter the race a day after popular Gov. Joe Manchin III launched his campaign to fill the remaining two-plus years of Byrd’s term. The filing deadline for candidates is Friday.

West Virginia GOP Chairman Doug McKinney said he has not heard from any Republican seriously weighing a bid and noted that a candidate would likely need to raise several million dollars quickly to mount a credible campaign.

An unlikely Democratic challenger to Mr. Manchin did step forward Wednesday: Ken Hechler, a 95-year-old former congressman and secretary of state. The primary will be Aug. 28.

Mr. Hechler said his candidacy will be a chance for voters to oppose a controversial strip-mining method known as “mountaintop removal” that exposes coal seams through large-scale blasting. Mr. Manchin is a champion of the state’s coal industry, which considers the method highly efficient.

“It’s not to attract attention to myself. It’s not that I even expect to win,” said Mr. Hechler, in Jamestown, N.Y., this week for a series of lectures on his days as an Army combat historian in Europe during World War II. “I want to give an opportunity for those who want to vote against mountaintop removal.”

One possible Republican challenger, Morgantown industrialist and former state party chairman John Raese, plans to say Thursday whether he will enter the race. He challenged Mr. Byrd in 2006 and lost overwhelmingly.

Mrs. Capito decided not to run even after lawmakers passed a special election measure that would have allowed her to be on the ballot for both a sixth House term and for Byrd’s seat in November.

The 56-year-old Mrs. Capito, who faces a political novice in her House race, said a dual candidacy would “create more uncertainty, invite a legal challenge and misrepresent my priorities as a public servant.”

Mrs. Capito also said she would not run for governor if Mr. Manchin were to win in November and trigger a special election for his job.

Mr. McKinney said Mrs. Capito had been backed into a corner because of the potential downsides to seeking both offices, but he also said her decision was a disappointment after the state legislature’s minority Republicans won the amendment allowing her to do so.

“They went out on a limb and really extended themselves to get that provision in there,” Mr. McKinney said. “They’re going to be disappointed, and I think most West Virginians will be disappointed.”

Political analysts said the governor is heavily favored, and had given him the edge even in a matchup with Mrs. Capito.

“He would be awfully hard to beat,” said Marybeth Beller, a Marshall University political science professor. “He’s very popular in this state, and is a social and fiscal conservative and so has broad appeal across party lines.”

The winner of the Nov. 2 special election will succeed Sen. Carte Goodwin, Mr. Manchin’s Democratic appointee to fill the Senate vacancy temporarily. Mr. Goodwin, a 36-year-old lawyer and the governor’s former chief counsel, was sworn in Tuesday. The winner of Byrd’s seat will have to go again before voters in 2012, when the six-year term was originally set to expire.

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