Senator Walsh withdraws from Montana Senate race
Montana Senator John Walsh, dogged for weeks by charges that he plagiarized his thesis at the Army War College, has decided to drop out of the Senate race.
Sen. John Walsh said Thursday he is pulling out of the Senate race because his campaign was distracted by the controversy over allegations that he plagiarized a U.S. Army War College research paper.
Walsh, a Democrat, said he decided to drop out of the race after canceling campaign events this week so he and his family could gather in his Helena home to decide his political future.
Walsh will serve out the rest of his Senate term, which ends in early January 2015.
The New York Times reported July 23 that Walsh had plagiarized large portions of the research paper in 2007.
The plagiarism charge has dominated Montana news since then. Editorials in the state’s largest daily newspapers had called on Walsh to drop out of the race because of the plagiarism.
“I am ending my campaign so that I can focus on fulfilling the responsibility entrusted to me as your U.S. senator,” Walsh said in a statement to supporters. “You deserve someone who will always fight for Montana, and I will.”
The Montana Democratic Party now will choose a replacement for Walsh to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, along with Republican Rep. Steve Daines and Libertarian Roger Roots.
The party must select a new Senate candidate at a nominating convention by Aug. 20. (See related story.)
Walsh drove from Helena to Billings on Thursday to personally tell his staff of his decision before it was released publicly.
“I am proud that with your support, we held our opponent (Daines) 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,” Walsh said in the statement. “I know how important it is to continue the fight for these Montana values, and it is time for us all to return to the real issues of this election.”
Daines had held a large lead in polls, but Walsh had narrowed the gap in the days before the New York Times story broke.
Despite Walsh narrowing the gap with Daines, almost every pollster gave the Republican the big edge going into the election. The only real challenger to Daines in the state now is the popular former Governor Brian Schweitzer, and he insists he won't be candidate. The sitting govenor, Steve Bullock, has also ruled out running.
There are no shortage of candidates who want to replace Walsh on the ballot:
The two Democrats who lost to Walsh in the June primary, rancher Dirk Adams of Wilsall and former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger of Helena, said they’re interested in the nomination, although Bohlinger said he’s not actively seeking the appointment.
“If the Democratic Party delegates think I’m the best qualified, I would say yes, with the proviso that they do two things: provide a sufficient amount of money to run a credible campaign and provide a large workforce of volunteers around the state who will go door-to-door to deliver campaign material and to put up signs,” Bohlinger said.
Adams simply said he was interested in seeking the nomination.
Three state legislators — Rep. Amada Curtis of Butte, Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula and Rep. Franke Wilmer — expressed interest in seeking the nomination.
“Who would not want to run against Steve Daines?” asked Curtis, a teacher and first-term lawmaker. “He’s taken so many terrible votes. Daines is so wrong for Montana on so many issues, I’d be crazy not to run against Steve Daines.”
Wilmer said she probably will run, but was waiting to see what former state school Superintendent Nancy Keenan decided. Keenan told the Gazette State Bureau earlier in the week she wasn’t interested in seeking the Senate nomination, but couldn’t be reached Thursday.
“I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a woman candidate,” said Wilmer, a college professor who completed her fourth term in the House.
She cited a recent poll that showed Daines had the support of only 47 percent of the Montana voters.
“He has the money, the incumbency and he can’t get over 47 percent,” Wilmer said. “Clearly, there’s room for someone to appeal to the people and be what he’s not.”
Wanzenried said he’s had calls encouraging him to go for the Senate nomination and is interested in being considered.
Montana is a cheap media state and a well funded challenger to Daines might make a go of it. But chances are, whoever emerges from the special convention being called by the state Democratic party to replace Walsh on the ballot won't have near the name recognition, or deep pockets that Walsh enjoyed.
Daines should cruise to victory in November.