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. He had canceled campaign events this week as he and his family discussed what he would do.
It's been two weeks since the public learned that Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) plagiarized much of a paper he submitted in 2007 while working on his master's degree at the United States Army War College. The controversy has done significant damage to his public standing, and this week, the Billings Gazette's editorial board urged the appointed senator to give up and stop seeking a full term this fall. The paper said quitting would be "the honorable course."
Today, Walsh agreed.
Walsh will serve the remainder of his appointed Senate term, which ends in January.
It's a disappointing end to a promising political career. Walsh, a decorated veteran and the only Iraq war veteran currently in the Senate, also served as the adjutant general of the Montana National Guard and as the state's lieutenant governor.
To be sure, the Democrat, appointed to the seat after Max Baucus became the U.S. ambassador to China, faced a tough election campaign, and polls showed Rep. Steve Daines (R) as the favorite. That said, polls showed the race tightening a bit last month -- one poll showed him within seven points -- right up until the plagiarism story broke.
Stepping back, there are a couple of broader questions to this story to consider.
First, what happens now in Montana? Democrats will only have a couple of weeks to choose a candidate for the November ballot, with a nominating convention scheduled for Aug. 20. With so little time remaining, chances are, in-state Dems will struggle to find a credible candidate who'll be able to make this a competitive contest.
That said, keep an eye on former two-term Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D). The former governor was expected to run for this Senate seat, before unexpectedly dropping out last year and clearing the way for Walsh. Now that Walsh is out, will Schweitzer give the contest another look? It's pure speculation -- I've heard no rumors about his plans -- but he is the only Democrat in Montana who would have any chance to all to win this race.
Second, there's a reasonable case to be made that John Walsh is getting a raw deal. The fact that he was guilty of plagiarism is not in dispute -- he was caught dead to rights -- but the incident occurred before he became a senator.
In contrast, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was caught plagiarizing, repeatedly, in a variety of media, while serving in the Senate. Worse, while Walsh immediately acknowledged his wrongdoing, the Kentucky Republican tried to redefine the word "plagiarism" and suggested he wanted to "duel" journalists who dared to point out his misdeeds.
And yet, here we are. Walsh, caught plagiarizing before his Senate career, is finished, while Rand Paul, caught plagiarizing during his Senate career, is planning a presidential campaign. As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, the asymmetry is striking.