HELENA — U.S. Sen. John Walsh, who filed Saturday to run for the seat to which he was appointed last month, leveled his strongest attack yet against his probable challenger, Republican Steve Daines, calling Daines the purveyor of a “cruel ideology” that “only seeks to preserve privilege.”
Walsh, speaking to the annual Democratic Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner in Helena on Saturday evening, slammed Daines for votes to “privatize Medicare,” cut tax rates for the wealthy, shut down the federal government last October and cut food stamps.
He also called Daines an extreme opponent of abortion rights, saying he opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest and co-sponsored a bill Walsh said would ban abortion and outlaw birth control pills.
“He defends an ideology masked as principle,” Walsh said. “But the reality is that Congressman Daines’ ideology only seeks to preserve privilege. They claim freedom, but deny some people rights. … It is a cruel ideology, a cowardly ideology.”
Walsh, 53, on Saturday became the third Democrat to file for the U.S. Senate seat, which he’s occupied for just four weeks.
Walsh announced last October that he would run for the seat being vacated by then-Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who had decided to retire this year. In December, President Barack Obama announced he planned to nominate Baucus as U.S. ambassador to China.
Baucus resigned his Senate seat in February to become ambassador, and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Walsh, his lieutenant governor, to fill Baucus’ seat for the rest of this year.
Two other Democrats also are vying for the seat: Former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams, a political newcomer. They’ll compete with Walsh for the nomination in the June primary election. Daines, Montana’s U.S. representative, announced last November that he’s running for the Baucus seat.
With two days left for candidates to file, no other Republican has filed in the race.
While Walsh spent part of his Saturday night speech blasting Daines, he also spelled out some of his own positions, saying he supports increasing the minimum wage, cutting waste in the defense budget, allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and reforming the prosecution of sexual assaults in the military.
“Don’t get me wrong; I know full well that we must never let our guard down in our stand against terrorism,” he said. “But we must cut wasteful spending in our military and anywhere else in this American government that we can find.”
But Walsh saved his sharpest words for Daines, whom national Republicans consider as one of their best chances to pick up a Democratic-held seat in the U.S. Senate.
He pointed to Daines’ 2013 vote for the proposed House Republican budget, which would have converted Medicare to a system of subsidies to help the elderly buy private insurance or traditional Medicare, as well as reduced tax rates for the wealthy and most taxpayers.
Walsh also noted Daines’ support of HR 1091, which declares that human life begins at conception and extends the rights of equal protection under the 14th Amendment to “each born and preborn human person.”
The bill was introduced a year ago and has seen no action in a House subcommittee.