Thursday, August 07, 2014

John Walsh: To Run or Not to Run?

Sen. John Walsh (D-MT)

A couple of weeks ago I did a piece on the immediate fallout from the New York Times report on Sen. John Walsh’s plagiarism scandal.  In the weeks since, it has become evident that Walsh cannot possibly recover.  While the Vox Populi poll that just came out didn’t have a damning margin to it (thirteen points isn’t as awful as it could have been), the over 60% of the populace saying they are less inclined to vote for Walsh is a death sentence.  The question now, though, is whether or not the junior senator steps down as a candidate before Monday’s deadline.

This is not a particularly easy question from a partisan perspective for the Democrats, and the DSCC is publicly staying out of the decision (though I cannot fathom that Harry Reid hasn’t voiced his private position to Walsh and Jon Tester, the state’s senior senator and the most powerful Democrat in the state).  For starters, there isn’t a particularly robust bench in Montana.  With Max Baucus retiring (still the retirement that sticks in my craw the most thanks to it being caused by Brian Schweitzer’s primary threats, and then he didn’t even run-and Baucus could have won it!), and Brian Schweitzer’s stock decidedly down after controversial remarks about Dianne Feinstein and Eric Cantor, there’s no ringer in this race like Frank Lautenberg was in 2002 for the Democrats in New Jersey.  Statewide Democrats like Steve Bullock, Linda McCulloch, Monica Lindeen, and Denise Juneau (the top tier bench) all took a pass when the race looked far more winnable before Walsh entered.  The Democrats could go with former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, who got clobbered by Walsh in the primary (and is 78), but he doesn’t seem like a particularly viable option.  Nancy Keenan and Stephanie Schriock both would have little trouble raising money, but their noted association with pro-choice groups may not fly in socially conservative Montana (and they might not want to taint their electoral records with an almost certain loss).  And these are the best candidates.  More than likely some senior member of the Montana State Democratic Party leadership will be asked to suck it up and carry the banner to at least have a name on the ballot that isn’t the Treasure State’s equivalent of Alvin Greene.

Because that’s really what the Montana Democrats are worried about right now-turnout.  The party has done an excellent job this cycle in terms of recruitment, getting candidates in 25 different Senate races and all 100 different House races.  The Democrats are worried that with a poor candidate bringing down the ticket statewide, they may be hurt in their quest to hold off Republicans from padding their majorities, and also that this will hurt their candidate John Lewis in the open House seat.  This is a legitimate fear, and one worth considering.

I think for me, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, the thing that should be driving Walsh’s decision shouldn’t be saving face, but who would replace him.  If they can get someone like Keenan or Schriock, someone who brings a ton of money and organization with them, then it’s time to step aside as a candidate.  This isn’t a horrible scandal like an affair with a staffer or something that would turn people off completely even within the actual party, but if they could get a candidate whom the party could get remotely excited about then it’s probably time to bring Walsh off of the ticket.  No one can win this seat, but there are other races that could be in the balance if Democratic enthusiasm is dampened.

That being said, if the best they can do is a random no-name candidate, then Walsh needs to fulfill his obligations.  The Democrats put a lot of trust in him in this race, and have raised a lot of money for him-this race seemed for a second there like it was about to close (which would have made the Senate majority math far more complicated for the GOP), so his slip-up has national ramifications.  It’s got to suck continuing on in a race that you know you’re going to lose, but he has to give it his all in a magnanimous way at that point-it’s about getting other people on the ticket elected who represent the views he celebrates, even if it means he won’t gain anything occupationally from the circumstance.

We’ll find out in the next few days if Walsh will exit the race (my gut says that he will), but in the meantime-anyone want to make a guess whether, from a purely partisan standpoint, the Democrats would be better off with or without him on the ballot come November?  And who will take his place on the ballot if he steps aside?

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