CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Joe Manchin's choice to succeed the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd will have a tough time staying in office, if history is any guide.
None of the five West Virginians previously appointed to vacant U.S. Senate seats survived the next election -- one decided not to run; the rest lost.
Results for West Virginia governors seeking a Senate berth have been nearly as poor. Four have pursued a Senate seat while in office. Just one has succeeded: Jay Rockefeller, who won his current Senate seat in 1984, toward the end of his second term as governor.
Byrd, American history's longest-serving senator, died Monday at 92. Manchin has not named his successor. Conflicting state statutes on the topic have led election officials to conclude that the eventual appointee will not have go before voters until 2012.
Republican John D. Hoblitzell Jr. was West Virginia's last Senate appointee, in 1958. Gov. Cecil Underwood picked the Wood County businessman upon the death of Sen. Matthew Neely, like Byrd a legendary Democratic politician in his time. Hoblitzell fell later that year to yet another larger-than-life Mountain State politico, Jennings Randolph.
The previous appointee, Joseph Rosier, was named by Neely in 1941 in one of the trickiest political maneuvers the state had then seen: Elected as governor while a U.S. senator, Neely tapped the fellow Democrat upon his swearing-in to fill the Senate seat he had just vacated.
Neely switched offices reluctantly, as part of his running battle with a rival faction of his party that opposed New Deal policies, recalled Richard Neely, his grandson and a retired state Supreme Court justice.
"He did not want West Virginia to fall to what he considered reactionary forces," said Neely, now a lawyer in Charleston. "He thought it would be irrevocable."
But outgoing Gov. Homer Holt had made his own choice for the seat, appointing Clarence E. Martin Sr. It fell to the Senate Elections Committee to resolve the dueling claims. Rosier prevailed. Among other factors, Neely had been in the Senate on and off since 1923.