HELENA—Sen. John Walsh said Thursday he is pulling out of the Senate race because his campaign was distracted by the controversy over allegations that he plagiarized a U.S. Army War College research paper.
Walsh, a Democrat, said he decided to drop out of the race. He had canceled campaign events this week as he and his family discussed what he would do.
The New York Times reported July 23 that Walsh had plagiarized large portions of the research paper in 2007.
Walsh will serve out the rest of his Senate term, which ends in early January 2015.
“I am ending my campaign so that I can focus on fulfilling the responsibility entrusted to me as your U.S. senator,” Walsh said in a statement to supporters. “You deserve someone who will always fight for Montana, and I will.”
The Montana Democratic Party now will choose a replacement for Walsh to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, along with Republican Rep. Steve Daines and Libertarian Roger Roots.
The party has to select a new Senate candidate at a nominating convention by Aug. 20. About 175 delegates, including statewide and federal elected officials, county party committee leaders and the party executive board members, will pick the nominee.
Walsh was driving from Helena to Billings to personally tell his staff of his decision before it was publicly released.
“I am proud that with your support, we held our opponent (Daines) accountable for his hurtful record to privatize Medicare, to deny women the freedom to make their own health decisions and to sell off our public lands,” Walsh said in the statement. “I know how important it is to continue the fight for these Montana values, and it is time for us all to return to the real issues of this election.”
Daines had held a large lead in polls, but Walsh had narrowed the gap in the days before the New York Times story broke.
Editorials in the state’s largest newspapers had called on Walsh to drop out of the race because of the plagiarism.
Walsh, 53, who served 33 years in the Montana National Guard, was named as the state’s adjutant general by then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer in 2008.
In 2012, Steve Bullock selected Walsh as his running mate for lieutenant governor, and he resigned as adjutant general. The Bullock-Walsh team won the election by a narrow margin.
He was enjoying his duties as lieutenant governor until Montana politics was turned upside down when longtime Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., made a surprise announcement in April 2013 that he wouldn’t seek re-election.
Schweitzer expressed interest in running for the Senate seat and cleared out the Democratic field. However, in mid-July, Schweitzer decided not to run.
Walsh jumped into the Senate race in October 2013.
Then in another surprise announcement, President Barack Obama in December appointed Baucus to be U.S. ambassador to China. That created an opening in the Senate to serve out the remainder of Baucus’ term.
On Feb. 7, after Baucus’ appointment had cleared the Senate, Bullock appointed Walsh to the Senate vacancy. Walsh went on to win a three-way primary for the Democratic Senate nomination in June.
In his statement, Walsh went on to say: “I am grateful for the opportunity to have met countless people in the course of this campaign who have offered support – who know what’s at stake for the future of our great nation. That is why public service is so important to me, and why I look forward to continuing to fight for Montana in the U.S. Senate.
“Nothing is more important to me than serving the people of Montana. It’s been my privilege for more than 30 years, defending both our state and nation.”
In the Senate, Walsh was the only Iraq combat veteran and was a leading critic in the Senate of reengaging in Iraq.
He introduced the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act, a bill that drew bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.
Walsh had another bill to create an independent Commission on Care to examine the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in response to reports of delayed and inadequate care at the VA. Obama signed the bill into law Thursday.