Most of the regional news today is focused on the West Virginia Senate seat once held by Robert Byrd. A special election to fill the seat will (almost certainly) be held this November. The development has put another Democratic seat on the GOP’s radar. But how likely is it that the rural state will go red?

The Fix says Democratic Governor Joe Manchin will most likely run in the special election, and that gives the Republicans stiff competition.

Many Republicans are skeptical that the GOP’s top hope in the race, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), is ready to run against Manchin – especially when she might have a better shot at succeeding him as governor.

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Some candidates mentioned include wealthy businessman John Raese, who lost badly to Byrd in 2006; former Secretary of State Betty Ireland; former state Sen. Steve Harrison; state Sen. Mike Hall; and League of American Voters executive director Bob Adams, who ran for state Treasurer in 2004.

But unless a candidate has millions to self-fund, raising money for such a short campaign will be difficult for a little-known candidate, and there aren’t any big names outside of Capito.

“Republicans in the state unfortunately haven’t done a good job cultivating statewide candidates,” said GOP consultant Brian Donahue, who was executive director for the Bush-Cheney campaign in the state in 2004.

Complicating matters for the GOP is the prospect of an open special election, which Manchin’s people are reportedly floating. Such an option would put all candidates in one giant special election without any party nominees. It would also appear to favor the governor, by potentially splitting up the GOP vote against him.

FiveThirtyEight has weighed in on the race, too, offering the best statistical analysis available:

Although there are no especially recent polls on Machin’s approval, a PPP poll in May, 2009 put his numbers at 53 percent approving and 34 percent disapproving — these are pretty decent numbers, especially since PPP, for whatever reason, has a fairly strong house effect toward low-ish approval ratings. Also, a Mark Blankenship Enterprises poll in August, 2009 put Manchin’s numbers at just 78 percent approving and 18 percent disapproving.

If we treat Manchin as an incumbent, using an average of his PPP and Blankenship approval ratings, our model shows him as a favorite — but only by a small margin: just 1 point over a Republican at the next-highest level of experience below Senator/Governor, such as a U.S. Representative or a statewide elected officeholder like an Attorney General. Against someone with fewer credentials, like a state senator, Manchin would be a 6-pointfavorite, and against an outsider with no experience in elected office, he’d be an 11-point favorite.

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