Democrats in Montana on Thursday afternoon got the news that incumbent Sen. John Walsh, whose seat is up for election in November has dropped out of the race. This is likely the best news the party has heard in a while.
Walsh, who was appointed to fill the expired term of former Sen. Max Baucus, has been embroiled in a scandal ever since it was revealed that he apparently plagiarized part of his Masters thesis as a student at the Army War College. Never a strong candidate, Walsh was already expected to lose to Rep. Steve Daines, the Republican congressman whom the GOP tapped to challenge him.
After the plagiarism story broke, Walsh’s numbers tanked. Late last month, the website fivethirtyeight.com, run by Nate Silver, gave Walsh a 3 percent chance of winning his race.
Democrats now have until August 20 to produce a new nominee, and whoever it is will have an extremely short runway if they intend to mount any sort of challenge to Daines. That means that any candidate who doesn’t already have broad name recognition has virtually no chance.
There are a number of names being floated as possible replacements for Walsh. The Washington Post, for example, names former Lieutenant Gov. John Bohlinger; former state education official Nancy Keenan; and State Sen. David Wanzenreid.
However, none of those three is the sort of household name necessary to derail the Daines campaign. In fact, short of former Sen. Max Baucus returning from his ambassadorship in China to reclaim his old seat, there’s probably just one person with a reasonable shot at giving Daines a run: former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Colorful, politically incorrect, and a bit of a loose cannon, Schweitzer has antagonized many Democrats both inside and outside Montana over the years, but his apparent independence of the national party is, for many, a large part of his appeal. Now living on his ranch in Anaconda, MT, he has generally denied interest in the Senate seat, but has kept just enough hope alive among some of his supporters to make speculation about his entering the race a major topic of conversation Thursday afternoon.
If he were to throw his hat in the ring and secure the nomination, it would not only give some hope to the Montana’s Democrats but to the national party as well. Democrats need to limit Republican gains if they want to maintain their hold on the Senate, and Walsh’s seat had already been written off. An insurgent Schweitzer candidacy could change a lot of people’s calculations.
Update, Aug. 8, 7:30 a.m.: On Thursday evening, Schweitzer announced via his Twitter account that he would not seek the Democratic nomination for Senate, saying, "I respectfully decline to seek the Senate nomination. Many thanks to John Walsh & I'll support whoever the next nominee turns out to be.”
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: