HELENA — State Sen. Dave Wanzenried on Thursday said he’s ending his efforts to succeed Sen. John Walsh as Montana’s Democratic U.S. Senate candidate this fall, leaving only two main candidates still in the intra-party contest.
Wanzenried, a veteran state lawmaker from Missoula who recently moved to Billings, told the Gazette State Bureau Thursday afternoon that he’s pulling out of the contest because of potential health problems facing his wife and because he doesn’t believe he can win the nomination.
Wanzenried said his wife, Barbara Scheeman, had an “abnormal test result” after a routine mammogram this week and will undergo further testing next week.
“Given the uncertainty of those test results, coupled with a very evident trend favoring one candidate, I am ending my efforts (to succeed Walsh),” he said in a statement. “(I) will devote all of my energies to Barbara’s well-being as we work through the next steps of this challenge.”
The Montana Democratic Party is holding a nominating convention Saturday in Helena, when party delegates will choose Walsh’s successor as a candidate.
Walsh withdrew from the race Aug. 7 when it was revealed he plagiarized his master’s degree final paper at the U.S. Army War college. He remains as Montana’s junior U.S. senator through the end of his term this year.
The two remaining people actively campaigning to succeed Walsh are Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams, who lost to Walsh in a three-way U.S. Senate Democratic primary election in June, and state Rep. Amanda Curtis, a high school teacher from Butte.
Former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, who also ran in the U.S. Senate primary, has said he would accept the party’s nomination under certain conditions, but Adams and Curtis appear to be the main competitors at Saturday’s convention.
As many as 150 party delegates are eligible to vote at the Saturday convention, but it’s not yet known how many will show up. Delegates must attend the convention in person to vote.
The winner of the nominating convention Saturday will take on U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Libertarian Roger Roots in the Nov. 4 general election. In most public polls, Daines has had a solid lead.
Also Thursday, the Montana AFL-CIO threw its support to Curtis, a member of MEA-MFT, the union that represents teachers in Montana. The MEA-MFT, the state’s largest labor union, also is backing Curtis.
Al Ekblad, executive secretary for the AFL-CIO, said its board unanimously endorsed Curtis after a Thursday meeting.
Ekblad said the board is backing the 34-year-old Curtis because she is a union member and can attract female and young voters.
“I’m going to be telling people this candidate appeals to young voters, she appeals to women, she’s charismatic,” he said. “And she carries a union card.”
Adams, Curtis and their respective supporters have been contacting delegates all over the state, trying to sway their vote Saturday. The delegates include the state party’s Executive Board, some statewide elected officials, and local county central committee chairs and vice-chairs and committee people.