Democratic U.S. Senator John Walsh of Montana ended his election bid following plagiarism allegations, leaving his party looking for a replacement candidate.
In an e-mail to supporters yesterday, Walsh said he was dropping out of the Senate race because controversy over the plagiarism claim “has 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 wrote. “You deserve someone who will always fight for Montana, and I will.”
Walsh already was in an uphill campaign against Republican U.S. Representative Steve Daines, in a state President Barack Obama lost twice, when the New York Times reported July 23 that Walsh’s 2007 Army War College master’s thesis contained significant sections that appeared to be copied from other sources without attribution.
The late withdrawal from the contest may aid Republicans, who need a net gain of six seats in November to take control of the 100-member Senate.
The Montana seat is among three in which the Democratic contenders are considered underdogs, said Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. The other two are South Dakota and West Virginia, and Democrats are defending several other seats rated as toss-ups.
Walsh, 53, was appointed to the Senate in February to replace Democrat Max Baucus, a 35-year U.S. Senate veteran who became ambassador to China. As a senator and in his campaign, Walsh emphasized his military service in Iraq.
His campaign spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua responded to the Times report by describing him as “a great soldier who learned war strategy on the battlefield firsthand.”
Under Montana law, Democrats have until Aug. 20 to choose a replacement. It’s not immediately clear who Democrats will tap to take Walsh’s place, though Duffy said a successor might be ready to enter the race.
“My guess is there’s already been somebody selected,” Duffy said.
Montana Democratic Party Chairman Jim Larson said in an e-mailed statement that the party “looks forward to an open and transparent opportunity for Democrats to come together to decide our new nominee.”
Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in an e-mail that Daines “is one of the strongest Senate candidates in the country” and will defeat any Democrat chosen to take Walsh’s place on the ballot.
Walsh’s Senate term ends in early January. The Associated Press reported earlier that his campaign had postponed two events this week as he considered whether to stay in the race.
His campaign said last month that he made an unintentional mistake in incorrectly citing parts of his 14-page research paper at the War College. Walsh told AP he was on medication for post-traumatic stress disorder when he wrote the paper, almost two years after returning from his service in Iraq.
The Democrat who replaces Walsh on the ballot will inherit a fundraising deficit.
As of June 30, Daines had $1.7 million in his campaign account, compared with $713,621 for Walsh, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Walsh was Montana’s lieutenant governor and already was running for the Senate seat when he was chosen for the vacancy by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock. As an incumbent senator, he had to spend more time in Washington and less time in Montana campaigning.
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