Democratic Party officials selected a state senator Saturday to run for the U.S. House seat left vacant by newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney.

Sen. John Vinich defeated opponents Bill Downes, a Casper attorney, and Carrol Orrison, a former state tax commissioner, to earn the right to face Republican nominee Craig Thomas, a state representative in his third term, in the April 26 special election.Vinich, who received 49 of the 66 votes cast during the meeting of the state party's central committee, said the state needs someone to make its concerns known to the Democrats in Congress.

"Rather than being on the outside complaining about the decisions of the majority party, I will be directly involved and have the opportunity to speak out on western issues," he said. "The majority party has some members with senseless ideas and no understanding of the West."