Montana Sen. John Walsh said Thursday he won't be coming back to the Senate next year, confirming what was already the most likely conclusion to his campaign.
Walsh announced he is ending his bid to retain the seat he was appointed to in February, a decision reached less than three months before the election and days before a critical state deadline to remove his name from the ballot.
Republicans were already highly likely to win this seat in November. Now Democrats hope Walsh's exit is at least beneficial to their efforts in other races in the state. "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, as first reported by the Billings Gazette. “You deserve someone who will always fight for Montana, and I will."
Walsh was never destined for a long career on Capitol Hill, even after replacing Max Baucus, who was already serving his last term but resigned early to become the ambassador to China.
Before Baucus' resignation, the national party had unsuccessfully recruited others to run for the open seat before settling on Walsh, then the lieutenant governor and a military veteran with little political experience. His decision to walk away from the race highlights just how unlikely victory would have been against Republican Rep. Steve Daines in the GOP-leaning state — particularly after a recent, scathing New York Times report on Walsh’s apparent plagiarism at the Army War College in 2007.
Pressure mounted over the weekend, as the Billings Gazette published a blistering editorial calling on Walsh to end his campaign. The senator canceled events this week and remained at his home Tuesday for what his campaign told The Associated Press was "a personal day."
Walsh was sworn in on Feb. 11, six months to the day before the state's Aug. 11 deadline for candidates to opt off of the general-election ballot. Montana Democrats will now likely hold a nominating convention to replace Walsh before a second mid-August deadline.
One name mentioned by Montana Democratic insiders to fill Walsh's spot was Nancy Keenan, the former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Keenan, a former state superintendent of public instruction who lost a 2000 open-seat House race to Republican Denny Rehberg, is reportedly back in the state assisting Democrats in the midterms.
The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call changed its rating Thursday from Lean Republican to Republican Favored .
With Republicans already heavily favored to win the seat, choosing a new nominee at the very least takes a toxic brand off the top of the ballot in a state Democrats hope to win other races — namely the House seat Daines is vacating.
In that race, Republican state Sen. Ryan Zinke faces Democratic former congressional aide John Lewis and a Libertarian candidate. It's rated Favored Republican .
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