CHARLESTON, W.Va. - At least two men say they've secured the votes needed to succeed Gov.-elect Earl Ray Tomblin as president of the state Senate, but it might be some time before the public finds out who's right.
When Senate President Tomblin began acting as governor last year following Joe Manchin's election to the U.S. Senate, it ignited a contentious fight over how to fill the leadership vacuum Tomblin left in the legislative branch.
Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, was able to corral enough of his colleagues to agree to change Senate rules to create the position of acting Senate president while Tomblin acted as governor.
As a result, several southern lawmakers who were longstanding members of Tomblin's leadership team lost their leadership positions; Kessler replaced many of them with fresh faces.
Now that Tomblin has won the election for governor, that rule change is set to disappear.
After the gubernatorial election is certified, Tomblin will resign from the Senate (and his Senate presidency) to take the oath of office as governor. That could happen by the first week of November.
After that, Tomblin will call the Senate back into session to elect a new president.
Kessler, who has been working out of the Senate president's office for most of the year, is confident the only change will be to drop "acting" from his current title.
"I believe that I've received the commitment of the majority of Democrats in the caucus, as well as those on the floor, to prevail and retain the Senate president and lose the acting title," he said Tuesday.
But Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, begs to differ.
McCabe, formerly the Senate president pro tempore in Kessler's leadership team, was booted from his leadership position over a month ago after he told Kessler he was testing the waters for a run at his job.
McCabe also claims to have the votes needed to take the position.
"I wouldn't have entered into this if I didn't feel confident that I could win," he said.
Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, also announced he plans to make a run at the Senate presidency. He said it's too early to count anyone out just yet.
"I think it's premature to say this thing is signed, sealed and delivered," Green said. "We've got several weeks to go and a lot of things can change."
Some senators have grumbled that Kessler's leadership team has not done enough to reach out to those with differing opinions, creating divisiveness in the body. Critics say that is a stark contrast to how Tomblin ran things.
"Over the last 16 years, we've had a steady hand and solid voice of leadership in Gov. Tomblin, and I think at this point the Senate's crying out for that," Green said.
Kessler disagrees. He pointed to the recent Senate redistricting which, unlike the House of Delegates' redistricting plan, was drawn up without the usual political rancor.
"We handled ours in a relatively cohesive manner with very little bickering and infighting, and in the end passed it overwhelmingly," Kessler said.