Democratic Sen. John Walsh suspended his campaign for a full Senate term on Thursday, bowing to pressure to back out of the race after a plagiarism scandal threatened to eliminate his already slim chance of victory in Montana.
In a statement to Lee Newspapers, Walsh said he wanted to focus on finishing his term as a senator.
“It is time for us all to return to the real issues of this election,” he said.
Walsh, the military veteran appointed to replace Sen. Max Baucus in February, was running against Republican Rep. Steve Daines in the Montana race. The state’s Democrats now must scramble to find a replacement candidate in the next two weeks, an unenviable task just three months before Election Day in a race many already expected Republicans to win.
The news comes amid heavy rumors that Walsh has been mulling his political future this week. Local news outlets reported that Walsh had canceled a series of public events, including aTuesday night fundraiser in Jackson Hole, Wyo.—an indication that he is ready to end his campaign.
Originally, staffers were told they would receive a call or email Tuesday night with news about Walsh’s decision, a senior Walsh aide told National Journal. Later Tuesday night, they were told the decision would instead be announced to staff on Wednesday morning. Walsh announced the decision on a call with staffers, the senior aide said, adding that Walsh’s wife Janet was “openly sobbing” as she thanked members of the campaign.
Editorial boards across the state called for Walsh’s departure from the race over the weekend.The Missoulian said Walsh needs to “bow out of the Senate race immediately”; the Billings Gazette wrote that Walsh should “stop campaigning and do his utmost to serve Montanans well” for the remainder of his Senate term.
A New York Times report in late July found that Walsh had plagiarized large portions of his masters thesis at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania. Walsh initially apologized for his actions, with both the candidate and the campaign claiming his plagiarism was a result of posttraumatic-stress disorder after serving in Iraq.
Walsh later reversed those statements, saying PTSD was not at fault: “I am in no way—no way—tying what I did to any type of PTSD,” Walsh told a local radio station.”It had nothing to do with the mistake that I made.”