Ever since allegations of plagiarism arose two weeks ago, Sen. John Walsh has made himself scarce — and even scarcer yesterday. The Walsh campaign started “postponing” campaign events without warning, and without explanation:
Sen. John Walsh of Montana on Tuesday postponed at least two upcoming events as his campaign declined to answer questions about whether he planned to remain in the U.S. Senate race amid allegations that he plagiarized a research paper.
The Walsh campaign notified Gallatin County Democratic party members that he would not attend a backyard meet-and-greet in Bozeman hosted by Women for Walsh that was scheduled for Wednesday or a Friday talk on public lands at the county party’s new headquarters.
The campaign did not give a reason why, said Billy McWilliams, a member of the Gallatin County Democrats’ executive committee.
“Nobody’s talking,” McWilliams told The Associated Press. “It happened pretty quick this morning.”
Everyone knows the reason why, but no one wants to admit it … yet. Politico reported last night from unnamed sources that Team Walsh has begun discussions on whether the man who was specifically appointed to fill Max Baucus’ Senate term to get a leg up on the midterms could survive long enough to make the strategy work:
Montana Sen. John Walsh is engaged in internal deliberations with his political team about whether to stay on the ballot this year, sources said Tuesday, in the wake of a plagiarism scandal that has tarnished the appointed Democratic lawmaker’s standing. …
Another Democratic source said Walsh has been resistant to stepping down, and some expect he can weather the political storm by pointing to his long military record. But some top Democrats in the state fear that his remaining a candidate will cost them dearly in down ballot races. They worry that Walsh’s vulnerabilities could hurt, for instance, Democratic House candidate John Lewis, who has a real shot at winning the seat opening up with GOP Rep. Steve Daines running for Senate.
There’s also fear that Republicans could use Walsh’s weakness to pad their majorities in the state House and Senate. A redrawn legislative map has given Democrats some good pick-up opportunities, and the party has fielded candidates in all 100 House districts and all 25 Senate races.
The problem with “pointing to his long military record” is that it now includes the allegations of plagiarism. This was not a youthful indiscretion at a college decades ago, but a paper written for a master’s degree from the Army War College in 2007. The charge is serious enough — and so fraught with political overtones — that the Inspector General for the Department of Defense has announced that the IG’s office will oversee the probe into Walsh’s behavior. An unfavorable outcome, which seems likely from what the New York Times found and published, would almost certainly result in disciplinary action of some sort from the Department of Defense, or at least the AWC. And that will be part of Walsh’s military record, which makes it a flawed shield against attacks from Republicans on his integrity.
Another problem with fighting through the scandal is Walsh himself. He already tried to do that and failed miserably at it in the first few days of the scandal, first using claims of PTSD as a mitigating factor and then disavowing the undiagnosed condition as any excuse. Needless to say, that didn’t impress veterans with or without PTSD, which one might assume would be Walsh’s target demographic for the election. Any strategy for soldiering on in the race has to rely on Walsh’s talent as a campaigner, evidence of which has been in short supply.
Whatever they do, though, they have to do quickly. Walsh has until Monday to withdraw if Democrats are to have a chance to replace him on the ballot. They’d have to make that choice between Monday and August 20th, and they have few candidates from which to choose, all of whom would be a disaster for Democrats:
A few names are being mentioned as potential replacements for the state Democrats to pick from: Nancy Keenan, former national president of NARAL Pro-Choice America; EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock; or John Bohlinger, who got 23 percent against Walsh in the June 3 Democratic primary.
Other names mentioned, but which are not taken seriously by top people, are former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who has lots of baggage and passed on running last year, as well as Dirk Adams, who has a history in banking that Democratic strategists say makes him unelectable.
Schweitzer would have been the obvious choice — until he shot his mouth off about his “gaydar” and told National Journal’s Marin Cogan that Eric Cantor was gay:
(It wasn’t the only time Schweitzer was unable to hold his tongue. Last week, I called him on the night Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in his GOP primary. “Don’t hold this against me, but I’m going to blurt it out. How do I say this … men in the South, they are a little effeminate,” he offered when I mentioned the stunning news. When I asked him what he meant, he added, “They just have effeminate mannerisms. If you were just a regular person, you turned on the TV, and you saw Eric Cantor talking, I would say—and I’m fine with gay people, that’s all right—but my gaydar is 60-70 percent. But he’s not, I think, so I don’t know. Again, I couldn’t care less. I’m accepting.”)
So yes, it’s probably too soon for Schweitzer to overcome that, but he looks more viable in Montana than two hard-core pro-abortion activists or a dreaded banker. The easy dismissal of Adams shows how extreme “Democratic strategists” have become, too; how is being a banker more of a deal-killer than heading organizations that demand abortion on demand?
If Walsh gets out, I’d expect to see Schweitzer take his place, despite the “gaydar” comments. He may have baggage, but he’d be the only one on that list who could compete with Daines.
Update: A new poll from Vox Populi shows Daines up 13 over Walsh now, 47/34. Obama gets a 38/62 job approval rating, while Walsh does a little better at 44/56. The math on this poll is a little weird, though: a plurality of 42% say the plagiarism scandal will have no impact on their vote in the Senate race, but 32% say it will make them much less likely to support Walsh and 31% say somewhat less likely, which adds up to … 105%. That doesn’t count the 4% oddball fringe who claim that the plagiarism scandal will make them more likely to vote for Walsh, either.
It also alludes to another scandal involving Walsh:
A report from the Inspector General of the Department of the Army found that while Adjutant General of the Montana National Guard John Walsh improperly used his position for private gain. How does the report affect your likelihood of voting for Senator Walsh?
Interestingly, this one stings Walsh a little more, with only 36% saying it would have no impact on their voting decision, while 34% said it would make them much less likely to vote for him.
Update: Walsh submitted his paper in 2007, not 2005. I’ve corrected it above, and thanks to Ace for the heads-up.