CHARLESTON -- Gov. Joe Manchin announced Tuesday he will run for the U.S. Senate to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd's unexpired term.
Manchin's announcement ended weeks of speculation on whether the popular Democratic governor would give up the remaining 26 months of his second term for a chance to fill Byrd's term.
The national profile of the 62-year-old steadily has increased since the former state lawmaker moved into the governor's mansion in 2005 after a term as secretary of state.
People across the country have seen him comforting victim's families and rallying for improved safety and rescue measures following coal mining disasters in the state in 2008 and this year at the Upper Big Branch Mine.
"If I am so fortunate and honored to have the support of the people of West Virginia, I can't fill his shoes," Manchin said of Byrd. "I can only hope to follow his footsteps and serve the people of West Virginia as best I can."
The governor's announcement came after he and state lawmakers resolved their differences over the succession process.
The legislation, approved late Monday, calls for an Aug. 28 primary and Nov. 2 general election for the seat. It also calls for a four-day candidate filing period, which started Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
Manchin "enters the race as the odds-on favorite, regardless of who Republicans nominate," according to the Washington Post blog, The Fix.
Manchin said in an radio interview with Hoppy Kercheval that he has already lined up the "unequivocal" support of both the state Chamber of Commerce and major labor groups, which have both been his allies in the past.
Speaking to Kercheval, Manchin acknowledged he "probably will" be at odds with national Democrats on many issues.
Meanwhile, Republicans' top prospect is U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. State lawmakers won an amendment in the legislation that allows her to seek Byrd's seat without abandoning her ongoing bid for a sixth U.S. House term.
The Nov. 2 winner would take over for Carte Goodwin, Manchin's former general counsel and temporary appointee to the seat. Goodwin takes his oath of office Tuesday.
The special election legislation was passed 83-7 by the House of Delegates and unanimously by the state Senate five days into the special session.
The legislation also limits the discretion allowed Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, whose office will oversee the special election.
Both that and the amendment allowing a dual Capito candidacy are considered victories for the Legislature's Republican minority, the AP said.
Of course, both parties blamed each other for the impasse in passing the legislation.
State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said in a statement that Republicans were trying to "disenfranchise all West Virginians."
"It's disappointing that the process for electing Senator Byrd's successor has been politicized by House Republicans," he said. "They are doing the bidding of Republicans in Washington rather than the people of West Virginia. It's a shame."
The legislation would only apply to this election, according to the AP. Manchin had initially proposed the measure to revise the state's process for handling all future U.S. Senate vacancies.
State law on the topic had produced conflicting legal conclusions from Tennant and state Attorney General Darrell McGraw, also a Democrat.
On June 28, the day Byrd -- Congress' longest serving member -- died, Tennant found under state law a special election to fill the remainder of the late senator's term couldn't be held until 2012.
A push from lawmakers and residents led Manchin to ask McGraw whether the state could legally move up that election to Nov. 2. McGraw agreed such a move was legal.
While the attorney general insisted state law allowed Manchin to call the election on his own, the governor asked the Legislature to codify it into law anyway.
Manchin has been governor since 2005, and won his second term by the largest margin for that office in the state's history. He became chairman of the National Governors Association earlier this month.
The governor has won praise from such groups as the Cato Institute for his conservative approach to state finances and his push for gradual tax cuts benefiting both businesses and consumers.