HELENA, Mont. – A Democratic senator said Thursday he is dropping his campaign for office amid allegations that he plagiarized large portions of a 2007 research project he wrote for a master’s degree.
U.S. Sen. John Walsh of Montana, who was appointed by the state’s governor when the seat was vacated, said he is leaving the race but will serve until his term ends in January 2015, when the winner of November’s election is sworn in. Walsh’s decision is likely to give a boost to Republican Congressman Steve Daines, who is giving up his House of Representatives seat to run for Senate. Republicans need to gain a net of six seats in the election to take control of the Senate, and Walsh faced a tough race against Daines even before the plagiarism allegations.
“I am ending my campaign so that I can focus on fulfilling the responsibility entrusted to me as your U.S. senator,” the former National Guard commander said in a statement to supporters. “You deserve someone who will always fight for Montana, and I will.”
The announcement comes as a U.S. Army War College investigation is set to begin Aug. 15 into the paper Walsh wrote, which he previously said unintentionally contained wrongfully cited passages.
Lee Newspapers of Montana first reported Walsh’s departure from the race.
His decision allows Montana’s Democratic Party to hold a nominating convention to choose a replacement candidate before an Aug. 20 deadline.
Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Walsh in February to replace Max Baucus, who resigned from the Senate to become ambassador to China. Republicans blasted Bullock’s appointment of his lieutenant governor as a political move designed to gain an advantage in the elections.
The New York Times revealed the extensive use of unattributed material in Walsh’s paper about the spread of democracy in the Middle East. Walsh originally called it an “unintentional mistake” and told The Associated Press part of the blame may lie in his being treated for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder following his deployment in Iraq.
He later said he was not blaming PTSD for his mistake.
The pressure on Walsh’s campaign grew after the revelations, with the editorial boards of Montana’s three largest daily newspapers calling for him to withdraw his candidacy over the past two weeks.
Walsh is the only U.S. senator who served in the Iraq war. He capped a 33 years in the Montana National Guard, his career rising to state adjutant general before he took his first elected office in 2013 as Bullock’s lieutenant governor in 2013.
Walsh received the Master of Strategic Studies degree from the war college at age 47, a year before he became adjutant general overseeing the Guard and Montana’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Washington contributed to this report.