Democrats search for replacement in Montana Senate race

Associated Press Published:

HELENA, Mont. -- Montana Democrats were casting about Friday for a last-minute U.S. Senate candidate after their hopes to hold the seat in November suffered a huge blow with the withdrawal of incumbent Sen. John Walsh amid plagiarism allegations.

Party leaders are striving to keep a seat controlled by Democrats for more than a century. The post was held by Democrat Max Baucus for six terms before he stepped down to become U.S. ambassador to China.

Walsh, a former lieutenant governor was appointed to the Senate in February by Gov. Steve Bullock. He bowed out of the campaign Thursday after his campaign was derailed by a New York Times report that revealed the extensive use of unattributed material in a 2007 paper Walsh submitted to earn a master's degree from the U.S. Army War College.

Walsh was in Montana Friday, but had no public events scheduled and was not available for interviews, according to his Senate and campaign offices. His office sent out a statement Friday afternoon urging a clear mission and end goal regarding U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

Walsh's first scheduled appearances will be Tuesday, when he plans a series of roundtable discussions about Social Security and Medicare in Missoula, Great Falls and Lewistown, said Walsh's Senate spokeswoman, Andrea Helling.

The Senate is in recess until Sept 8.

"He will be traveling around Montana, meeting with Montanans about issues Montanans care about," Helling said.

Two-term former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, once considered a shoo-in for the Senate seat but who has insisted he's not interested in running, said Friday that the field of potential candidates is shifting rapidly. He indicated there was no clear favorite at this point.

"It's too dynamic. There's people every hour saying 'I'm out,' and every hour new names coming," he said.

Schweitzer, who serves as chairman of Stillwater Mining Co., the state's largest company by revenue, added that his decision to stay out was final, but he suggested he could have won if he entered.

"It was a final thing 14 months ago," he said, referring to Baucus' retirement announcement last year. "Fourteen months ago, had I run, Steve Daines would still be in the House, and I would be running against (former Republican state Sen.) Corey Stapleton, 20 points ahead."

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Brown reported from Billings.

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