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What You Need to Know About the Democrat Who Wants Robert Byrd's Seat

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, a Democrat, confirmed today that he will run for Robert Byrd’s Senate seat this fall. Chances are he’ll be running against Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, although she hasn’t formally announced her candidacy yet. So who exactly is Joe Manchin? Here are some quick, essential facts:

—Before becoming governor in 2005, Manchin served in the West Virginia state legislature and senate. He was also secretary of state from 2001-2005. He initially ran for governor in 1996 but lost in the Democratic primary.

—He polls sky-high: Earlier this month, Rasmussen found that Manchin had a 77 percent job approval rating.

—Coal mining has been a dominating issue during Manchin’s tenure as governor. According to The New York Times, more than 75 people have been killed in mining accidents since 2005, including the Upper Big Branch and Sago disasters. Soon after Sago, Manchin temporarily halted all mining so that safety checks could be performed.

—Manchin, a mining union ally, has been at odds with Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, a giant coal producer and the owner of Upper Big Branch. Blankenship sued Manchin in 2005, accusing the governor of violating his First Amendment rights when Manchin said Massey and its CEO should be under stricter government scrutiny. The case was eventually dropped.

—Manchin is conservative on several hot-button issues. He’s pro-life, and, earlier this year, he endorsed a law requiring health care providers to give women the option of seeing an ultrasound before they have abortions. When he was running for governor in 2004, the National Rifle Association (NRA) endorsed him—and gave him an “A+” rating. However, this spring, Manchin also vetoed two NRA-backed laws.

—In 2008, Manchin was the one of only four governors—and the only Democrat—to receive an “A” rating from the conservative Cato Institute, which issues a report card for the nation’s state executives. He was praised for cutting business taxes, including the corporate income tax rate, and for recommending cuts to the “overall general fund budget” almost every year. (Now, of course, conservatives are desperate to tie him to liberal policies and the Obama administration. They’ve been harping on a video of him expressing support for health care reform.)

—Earlier this year, Manchin criticized the Obama administration’s environmental policies. He said that “[c]ap and trade will destroy the might of this nation,” and that White House officials “can't just be committed to vilifying the things they don't like”—namely, coal.

Manchin, who went to West Virginia University on a football scholarship in 1965, bears a striking similarity to football fanatic, car salesman, and slick-talker Buddy Garrity on the (fantastic) NBC show “Friday Night Lights.”