Walsh drops out of U.S. Senate race; Democrats must find replacement

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BOZEMAN — U.S. Senator John Walsh (D-MT) told his staff in Billings on Thursday afternoon that he is ending his campaign against Republican challenger U.S. Representative Steve Daines (R-MT).


Walsh was appointed to the position by Montana governor Steve Bullock in February 2014 after Max Baucus retired from the U.S. Senate to become the U.S. ambassador to China.

Walsh said that dropping out of the race will allow him to focus on his responsibilities as a U. S. Senator until his term ends in January 2015. He said, “You deserve someone who will always fight for Montana, and I will.”

“I am proud of your support, we held our opponent accountable for his hurtful record to privatize Medicare, to deny women the freedom to make their own health decisions and to sell off our public lands,” said Walsh in a release to the media.

Several Montana newspapers in recent days have called on Walsh to drop out of the race because of plagiarism accusations first reported by the New York Times.

Walsh cancelled campaign and fundraising appearances in Gallatin County that had been set for Wednesday and Friday.

“It was going to be difficult for the Walsh campaign to recover from these allegations about plagiarism. Most importantly, it made it difficult to raise national money, so the decision is not unexpected,” said MTN News political analyst David Parker.

The Montana Democratic Party sent out a press release after Walsh’s decision was made public, saying in part: “Senator Walsh’s life has been and continues to be service to our nation and all Montanans. From 33 years in the National Guard, to serving as Lt. Governor to his time in the U.S. Senate, John Walsh has sacrificed significantly for our country and is to be commended. The Montana Democratic Party looks forward to an open and transparent opportunity for Democrats to come together to decide our new nominee.”

Montana Democrats now have until August 20 to pick another candidate. To do so they will meet to vote on a replacement candidate.

Parker explained, “You’ve got the executive board of the party, which includes Tester. He has a vote. Includes Bullock. Includes all the statewide office holders. Includes people that have been elected to the board. And then all the committee men and women from the various counties. So all told, a Democratic official told me, it’s about 175-200 people would meet in essentially a nominating convention out someplace where they would go through and put names forth until they get a majority and the majority vote getter becomes the nominee.”

Several names are being thrown about as possible replacements, including former governor Brian Schweitzer. But Parker warns about taking that suggestion seriously: “In a lot of ways, he’s a person who would make this race instantly competitive because of the name recognition, but I’m not entirely sure the Democratic base would be excited about that.”

(Wednesday, August 6) U.S. Senator John Walsh (D-MT) has canceled several campaign appearances, his political life on the verge of collapse in the wake of plagiarism revelations and his responses to them.

So how did Montana Democrats get to a point where, three months before an election, the top of their ticket is the subject of newspaper editorials calling for him to drop out of the race to keep his Senate seat?

Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer was widely expected to run for the seat that had been held since 1978 by Max Baucus – and which Democrats have held since 1913. But in July 2013, Baucus surprised even his own staff by dropping out of the race. Democrats were left scrambling for a candidate.

Walsh, with less than a year’s experience as Montana’s lieutenant governor, announced his candidacy in October, despite having no electoral experience outside of his victory on Bullock’s ticket.

In November, former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger entered the race, charging that the Walsh candidacy was dreamed up by Democratic Party insiders. “The Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, called me and he said, ‘You know, John, you’re a nice guy, but we’ve chosen Walsh,'” Bohlinger said in November.

Then came a surprise: reports in December that President Barack Obama would nominate Baucus as ambassador to China. That meant an open Senate seat, to be filled by Governor Steve Bullock.

Meanwhile, it turned out Walsh’s military record had some imperfections. In late December, MTN News revealed that an Army Inspector General report found that Walsh had used government resources for private gain and had coerced Guard members to join the National Guard Association of the United States.

Two weeks later, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed the Army’s final word on that matter: a formal reprimand, with harsh language from the general who wrote it, questioning Walsh’s ability to lead and saying he expected more from senior officers.

Walsh responded that the organization involved works to improve equipment and benefits for Guard members and their families, and that he had nothing to apologize for.

In February, Bullock appointed Walsh to the vacant Senate seat, saying, “From the day he enlisted in the Montana National Guard, John Walsh has had the courage to do what’s right and get the job done.”

Walsh handily beat his primary opponents, Bohlinger and Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams, but has never held an advantage over the Republican nominee, U.S. Representative Steve Daines, in either polls or fundraising.

Then came the July 27 revelation by the New York Times, showing plagiarism in a 14-page paper toward Walsh’s master’s degree at the Army War College. It showed not just sloppy or incomplete attribution, but also large sections of text – including his set of conclusions – ripped directly form other works.

“I don’t think Walsh’s responses when he’s been asked about the plagiarism have been adequate,” Carroll College political science professor Jeremy Johnson said Wednesday. “He should probably have apologized right up front instead of thinking about apologizing. And it’s not going to help him to try to argue about the PTSD. There are, though, no good answers when you’re caught with something like this (but) I got to say this: His answers have not helped.”

Johnson said Walsh had little chance of winning the race before the plagiarism revelations. But now he figures Walsh has “almost no chance to win, so it would be best for the party certainly if he’d step down.”

Top Montana Democrats have been silent on the Walsh matter or voiced support, with some Walsh supporters questioning the seriousness of the plagiarism allegations.

Under state law, Walsh has until Monday to withdraw from the race. That would then give the Montana Democratic Party Central Committee – more than 100 people from across the state – until August 20 to pick a new candidate.

But that candidate would face a tough opponent in Daines. A poll released Wednesday showed him 13 points ahead of Walsh, and he has plenty of campaign cash on hand, plus help coming from at least one major Super PAC.

Schweitzer did not return a call from MTN News inquiring about the Walsh situation.

There is, however, precedent for a late-replacement candidate winning an election, as Johnson points out.

In 2002, Democratic U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey was facing multiple charges of unethical behavior, and resigned on September 30.

New Jersey Democrats replaced him on the ballot with former U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg. Republicans sued, but the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld Lautenberg’s nomination and he won the election.

Walsh’s campaign did not respond to in inquiry Wednesday about Walsh’s current activities during the Senate’s August recess.


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