Democratic Sen. John Walsh said Thursday that he plans to drop out of the state’s competitive Senate race, forcing Democrats to scramble to find a replacement for November’s election.
Walsh’s withdrawal comes two weeks after The New York Times ran a story showing how Walsh, a decorated veteran, apparently plagiarized a paper while attending the U.S. Army War College in 2007.
The episode is deeply embarrassing for Democrats, who hoped Walsh would have been a competitive nominee for the seat.
Earlier this year, the state’s Democratic governor appointed Walsh to fill the remaining months of the vacant Senate seat in order to give Walsh a leg up over his Republican opponent in November. The seat opened up when President Obama appointed Democratic Sen. Max Baucus to serve as his ambassador to China.
Polls indicate that Republican Rep. Steve Daines is favored to win the seat.
The Billings Gazette reported Thursday on Walsh’s withdrawal from the race, which observers had speculated was likely after the plagiarism charges surfaced.
“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 Montana Democratic Party, under party rules, will choose a replacement at a nominating convention.
It’s not clear who Democrats will choose: former Gov. Brian Schweitzer once considered a run for the seat, but opted against it. Nancy Keenan, the former president of National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), has been mentioned as possible candidate. One dark horse name that has popped up includes Jim Messina, President Obama’s former campaign guru.
Republicans said they are confident that Daines will win regardless of who is nominated to replace Walsh.
“Steve Daines is one of the strongest Senate candidates in the country, was in the process of defeating Senator Walsh, and will defeat whichever band-aid candidate Democrats can persuade to get in the race,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Walsh — no relation to the host of America’s Most Wanted with the same name — is expected to serve out the remainder of the term, which ends in January when the newly-elected senator will take office.