WASHINGTON West Virginia's governor moved a step closer on Thursday to appointing an interim successor to the late U.S. Senator Robert Byrd who could help Democrats pass legislation to crack down on Wall Street.
West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw issued a legal opinion saying state law permits Democratic Governor Joe Manchin to set a special election in November to pick a replacement who would serve through the remainder of Byrd's term, which expires in January 2013.
Manchin had said on Wednesday he would not name a temporary successor -- to begin serving almost immediately -- until McGraw ruled on whether state election law allowed him to call a special election to replace Byrd.
The governor said once he knew whether there could be a special election, he would name an interim senator. The appointee would serve through November's general election.
Byrd died on June 28 at age 92, complicating efforts by fellow Senate Democrats to win final congressional approval of a landmark bill to tighten regulation of the financial industry.
Manchin seems certain to appoint a fellow Democrat to replace Byrd, which would restore the party's control of the Senate to 59-41.
Lawmakers expect the yet-to-be named successor to follow Byrd's lead and back the legislation, a top priority of the Obama administration.
Democrats appeared at least a few votes short of passing the bill after Byrd's death, but have since made changes to the measure and are now hopeful that they can pass it, possibly with the help of Byrd's successor.
Provided Manchin moves quickly on an appointment, the new senator could be sworn in when the Senate returns next week from a weeklong holiday recess.
Among those who have reportedly been considered by Manchin include former West Virginia Governor Gaston Caperton, state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio and former Byrd aide Anne Barth.
Manchin said he would not consider naming himself, but has made it clear he would be interested in running for the seat in a special election.
In a brief statement, Manchin expressed appreciation to McGraw for issuing a prompt opinion, but gave no indication when he would appoint a Byrd successor.
"I plan to speak with the state's legislative leadership immediately to determine how we will further proceed in order to reach a conclusion to this matter," Manchin said.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)