A plagiarism scandal has thrown Sen. John E. Walsh’s candidacy into jeopardy, fueling speculation that the Montana Democrat may withdraw from the race in order to allow another Democrat to run for the Senate seat.
Montana Democrats have until Aug. 20 to replace Mr. Walsh on the ballot with another candidate, but first the Democrat would need to end his candidacy by Aug. 11, according to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, as cited by The Missoulian newspaper.
Regardless, Montana Democrats are so far standing behind Mr. Walsh. Gov. Steve Bullock released a statement Thursday in support of the embattled Mr. Walsh, who lifted lengthy passages nearly word for word from several sources without attribution in a 2007 final paper for his master’s degree.
At the same time, Mr. Bullock said he was unaware of the plagiarism accusations when he appointed Mr. Walsh in February to fill out the term of Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China.
Polls show Mr. Walsh had gained ground in recent weeks on Republican Rep. Steve Daines, although Mr. Daines remains the front-runner, but the blow to the Walsh campaign from the plagiarism scandal may be too much to overcome, analysts said.
“I think it’s going to have a major impact,” said University of Montana political science professor Robert Saldin. “It totally undermines his credibility. The plagiarism is obvious, it’s blatant, and it’s massive in scope. It’s the kind of thing that I would consider totally scandalous and entirely unacceptable from an 18-year-old undergrad, fresh out of high school.”
He said the plagiarism directly undermines the appeal of the 53-year-old Mr. Walsh, a retired Army colonel and former adjutant general of the Montana National Guard.
“I think it’s devastating,” said Mr. Saldin. “It totally undercuts his credibility, his honesty, and those were things that were shaping up to be real strengths of his in the campaign.”
Political analyst Larry Sabato reassessed the race Wednesday from “leans Republican” to “likely Republican.”
Walsh aide Lauren Passalacqua told The Associated Press that the senator was not considering exiting the campaign. “Absolutely not,” she said Thursday.
Mr. Walsh told The AP that he had been taking medication for post-traumatic stress disorder while attending the U.S. Army War College, where he earned his master’s degree, and also dealing with the shock of a fellow veteran’s suicide.
“I don’t want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor,” he said. “My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment.”
David Parker, political science professor at Montana State University, said the case could be described as a case of “mosaic plagiarism” because Mr. Walsh appears to have copied from several different sources.
“It’s pretty damaging,” Mr. Parker said. “The big thing is, this is going to put off donors, and that means it’s going to be a lot harder for John Walsh to get his message out there.”