Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., is dropping his candidacy in the coming election but will keep his seat until his term ends in January. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
HELENA, Mont. – Montana U.S. Sen. John Walsh dropped his election campaign Thursday amid allegations he plagiarized large portions of a 2007 research project, leaving fellow Democrats to scramble for a replacement with the election less than three months away.
Nationally, the development only improves the odds for Republicans, who need a net gain of six seats in November to take Senate control. Even before Walsh’s exit, strategists in both parties considered his Senate race against U.S. Rep. Steve Daines an opportunity to tip one more seat in Republicans’ favor.
The Montana Democratic Party must hold a nominating convention before Aug. 20 to choose a replacement candidate.
Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s name circulated as a potential contender even before Walsh’s announcement. But Schweitzer rejected a run earlier this year, when he said he wasn’t interested in the seat that opened when six-term Sen. Max Baucus was named U.S. ambassador to China.
Walsh, a former National Guard commander, said in a statement to supporters that he was leaving the race but will keep the seat he was appointed to until his term ends in January.
He said the controversy surrounding his U.S. Army War College research paper had become a “distraction from the debate you expect and deserve.”
“I am ending my campaign so that I can focus on fulfilling the responsibility entrusted to me as your U.S. Senator,” Walsh said. “You deserve someone who will always fight for Montana, and I will.”
The announcement comes as an Army War College investigation is set to begin Aug. 15 into Walsh’s college paper. The senator previously said he wrongfully cited some passages in the work, but not deliberately. Lee Newspapers of Montana first reported Walsh’s departure from the race.
The decision is a boost for Daines, a former technology company executive from Bozeman who is giving up his House seat after one term to run for Senate.
The Republican said Thursday that he respected Walsh’s decision. He wouldn’t comment on the plagiarism allegation other than to say it was between Walsh and Montanans.
Daines has maintained a sizable fundraising advantage, raising $3.6 million since last fall, his campaign said last month. Walsh had raised nearly $2.8 million, according to his campaign.
The coming nominating convention for a replacement will be made up of Democratic leaders from county party committees, along with federal and statewide elected officials and the party’s executive board.
Montana State University political analyst David Parker said Walsh made the right decision for his family, given the huge amount of media attention surrounding the plagiarism charges. But he said it puts Democrats in a bind for November.
“I’m not sure the seat is winnable for Democrats,” Parker said. “The obvious person that could pull it off would be Brian Schweitzer, and I’m not convinced that he would do it, or that he will be asked.”
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