Montana Senate Moves to Lean Republican

Stuart Rothenberg July 24, 2014 · 2:00 PM EDT

As Roll Call was preparing to post my column yesterday on the Montana Senate race and recent Democratic polls showing the contest “closing,” a report surfaced in the New York Times about appointed Senator John Walsh’s plagiarism in his master’s thesis.

The Walsh story is a huge one and undoubtedly affects the Democrat’s already uphill bid.

Walsh, who didn’t dispute the heavily documented charge, said “I don’t want to blame my mistake on PTSD” before going on to suggest that post-traumatic stress disorder may have been a factor.

The defense is likely to only raise other questions about his Senate bid, keeping him on the defensive.

“John Walsh is a decorated war hero, and it’s disgusting that Steve Daines and Washington Republicans are going to try denigrate John’s distinguished service after multiple polls show him gaining,” a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman said in a ridiculously obvious effort to create a new narrative following the news.

In fact, it was members of the local and national media who pounced on the story, recognizing how serious it would be to Walsh’s reputation and campaign effort.

The Democrat already was an underdog against Republican Rep. Steve Daines, and the new controversy, following an earlier one about an Army Inspector General’s report that found Walsh behaved improperly about a different matter, is a potentially fatal blow to Walsh’s candidacy.

As my colleague Nathan Gonzales wrote recently, imperfect candidates can overcome mistakes in “friendly” states. But Montana is not particularly friendly to Democrats, and multiple mistakes are more difficult to overcome.

This plagiarism news is likely to limit Walsh’s ability to woo additional voters between now and November, and it probably makes it less likely that national Democratic groups will invest in his candidacy.

Because of that, we are moving this race from Tossup/Tilts Republican to Lean Republican.