HELENA — Sen. John Walsh, who has canceled several campaign appearances this week, remained in Helena on Wednesday as he pondered whether to stay in the U.S. Senate race in the wake of revelations that he plagiarized portions of a master’s degree paper.
Walsh, a Democrat, was in Helena on Tuesday meeting with advisers and family members about the future of his campaign against Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines and Libertarian Roger Roots.
Rumors about Walsh’s plans in the wake of the plagiarism scandal swirled among political insiders early this week, but the Walsh campaign steadfastly declined to comment about whether he’ll continue as a candidate.
He told the Montana Standard in his hometown of Butte late last week that he had no intention of withdrawing from the race.
The debate among Democrats is whether the plagiarism charges, unveiled in a July 23 story by The New York Times, have damaged the newly appointed senator’s campaign beyond repair.
Walsh, appointed in February by Gov. Steve Bullock to succeed Democratic Sen. Max Baucus after Baucus became U.S. ambassador to China, already had been trailing Daines in most polls.
However, a poll from the auto-polling firm Vox Populi released Wednesday indicated that while Daines maintains a solid lead over Walsh, at 13 percentage points, the lead is within the range reported in earlier independent polls.
Still, the Vox Populi automated telephone poll of 798 Montana registered voters said 63 percent of those polled said they’re less likely to vote for Walsh because of the plagiarism charges.
Under state law, Walsh has until Monday to decide whether to withdraw from the race, allowing the state Democratic Party to name a replacement.
Any replacement would start a campaign from virtual ground zero, with no money and a steep hill to climb against Daines, who had $1.7 million in his campaign account as of June 30.
Several prominent Democrats, including the two men defeated by Walsh in the Democratic primary election in June, said this week they’re either not interested in being the replacement candidate or have not been contacted.
Former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams, who were defeated by Walsh in the primary, said Monday they’d not been contacted about being a candidate, should Walsh withdraw.
Nancy Keenan, former state superintendent of public instruction and a congressional candidate in 2000, said Monday she’s not interested. State Auditor Monica Lindeen said last year that she didn’t want to run for Baucus’ seat in 2014.
Baucus announced in April 2013 he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2014. Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer considered the race but declined last summer, setting off a scramble by state and national Democrats to find a candidate to oppose Daines, who was, at the time, the likely Republican candidate.
They eventually convinced Walsh, the current lieutenant governor and former adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, to get into the race last fall. Then, Baucus was nominated by President Barack Obama to become U.S. ambassador and Walsh was appointed to take Baucus’s seat through 2014.
The New York Times reported July 23 that Walsh, a decorated Iraq War veteran, had plagiarized large parts of his final paper for his 2007 master’s degree at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.
Since that report, the college announced that its Academic Review Board, composed of five faculty members, would investigate the plagiarism charges and decide whether Walsh should be disciplined. The penalty could be revocation of his degree.
A college spokeswoman said this week that such a review can take 30 to 45 days.
Most of the state’s major newspapers have called on Walsh to withdraw as a candidate, but continue to serve as U.S. senator for the remainder of his appointed term.
Walsh returned to Montana late last week at the start of Congress’ lengthy August recess and attended a powwow at the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation on Saturday and a National Guard graduation ceremony on Sunday in Helena.
Yet he canceled several campaign events this week, including a joint fundraiser in Jackson, Wyo., on Tuesday, and, as of Tuesday, had not scheduled any public events the rest of the week.
Should Walsh resign, the central committee of the state Democratic Party would have until Aug. 20 to name a replacement candidate. The committee, composed of about 175 people, would hold a nominating convention and vote on the replacement candidate.