Democratic U.S. Senator John Walsh of Montana is facing plagiarism allegations that risk making his November election bid more difficult.
Walsh’s 2007 Army War College master’s thesis contained significant sections that appear to be copied from other sources without attribution, the New York Times reported yesterday.
“This is not good news for Democrats,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. “It contradicts the narrative of Walsh as a straight-laced military officer. Ultimately, it slows or stops any momentum that may have gathered behind his candidacy.”
Walsh’s campaign spokeswoman, Lauren Passalacqua, said in a statement today that he made an “unintentional mistake.”
“He’s a great soldier who learned war strategy on the battlefield firsthand but he’s not a classroom academic,” Passalacqua said. His 14-page research paper included 96 citations, according to a campaign statement.
The Associated Press quoted Walsh yesterday as saying he was on medication for post-traumatic stress disorder when he worked on the paper, almost two years after returning from service in Iraq. He also was quoted as saying his “head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment.”
The allegations became public just as Senate Democrats gave the legislative spotlight to Walsh, one of the chamber’s most vulnerable incumbents. Lawmakers yesterday advanced a measure he sponsored to give tax breaks to companies relocating jobs to the U.S. from other countries.
Walsh, 53, took office earlier this year as he replaced Max Baucus, the 35-year U.S. Senate veteran who became ambassador to China. Walsh is running against Republican U.S. Representative Steve Daines in a state that President Barack Obama lost twice.
National Democrats sought to bolster Walsh.
“John Walsh is a decorated war hero and it’s disgusting that Steve Daines and Washington Republicans are going to try to denigrate John’s distinguished service,” Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Steve Daines should immediately denounce these latest smears.”
As of June 30, Walsh had $713,621 in his campaign account, compared with $1.7 million for Daines, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Walsh was lieutenant governor when he was chosen for the Senate vacancy by Governor Steve Bullock and had already been running for the Senate seat.
His appointment was viewed as a mixed blessing for Democrats trying to keep the seat. While Walsh has fundraising advantages as an incumbent, he has to spend more time in Washington and less in Montana campaigning. He also has to make sometimes controversial votes in the Capitol.
Democrats control the Senate by a 55-45 margin, which means Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win the majority.
The Democrats’ Senate majority is in jeopardy because they are defending seats in states that often lean toward Republicans in federal races, including South Dakota, West Virginia and Louisiana.
The bill is S. 2569.